This Third Sunday in Ordinary Time instructs us that God is always calling us. The clearest example today comes from Mark’s Gospel. Jesus calls Simon and Andrew away from their nets to “Come after me.” Again, he finds James and John working with their father and he calls them to follow him.
These ‘call accounts’ are easy to recognize as such, but let us take a closer look at the work of God in Jonah’s life and through him, calling to the people of Nineveh. The scriptures tell us that Nineveh was on the brink of destruction. This story is really about two calls; the call to Jonah and the call through Jonah to the people of Nineveh. The scriptures simply tell us: “The Word of the Lord came to Jonah.” We do not know if this was an ‘inner voice,’ an ‘outer voice’ or if it came through an angel or some other person. But we know that somehow, God made His voice heard in Jonah’s life.
We know also that Jonah did not at first heed the voice of God, and in fact, He tried to disregard this call. This response is important, because it represents a fairly common response to the call of God. My own vocation story is one of ‘putting God off’ while I pursued my own interests, until God would be put off no longer.
The second part of God’s call in the Book of Jonah regards God’s invitation to the people of Nineveh to repent. The whole reason God sent Jonah to Nineveh was to turn the people back to God. In fact, by God’s power, Jonah’s proclamation: “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed.” led the people to believe God, and they repented and were saved.
Even though God gives every person the free will to ‘choose life or to choose death,’ God is not content to leave us alone when we choose poorly. God is always inviting us to a full and more abundant life, (John 10:10) which can only be achieved by living according to His law.
The Psalmist understands this path to human fulfillment when he says:
Teach me your ways, O Lord. Your ways, O Lord, make known to me; teach me your paths, guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior. (Psalm 25)
One needs only look at the working of his or her conscience to see that God is always calling; that God is never content to leave us alone in our sinful patterns of life. In moments of grace, God awakens in us a subtle awareness that something is not right. The proclamation of Jonah and the proclamation of Jesus at the beginning of his ministry is the voice of every human conscience: “Repent and believe in the gospel of God.”
Just as God sent His Word to Jonah, just as God sent Jonah to Nineveh, God sent His Son Jesus into the world. Jesus is the Word of God, the Word of life. God could have left the world without a savior, without a Way to immortality. But God’s desire is for something far greater for us. God’s desire is that we hear His voice, that we receive His mercy, and that we live in His love.
This has practical implications for each of us individually and for our society and world as a whole. God continues to call. Many and varied are the ways that any one person can hear God’s voice. What is important is to be listening! No matter how badly one may have sinned and how low one’s self esteem may be, God is calling. God longs to free us from anything and everything that enslaves us. God’s great desire is share a new and more abundant life with each of us.
Finally, no matter how bad things may seem to be in our world, God is still calling. And, God is still sending people in his name to preach the Gospel. Just as Jonah was sent to Nineveh and they repented; Just as God sent His Son into the world for the salvation of the world; Just as Jesus called Simon and Andrew, James and John and many others, Jesus is calling you and me. “Come, follow me.”