Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - Fr. Pete Iorio
January 23, 2021 - 5:00 PM
January 24, 2021 - 8:30 AM, 11:00 AM
Words have power. They can inspire us to do good things and bad things. They can console us and challenge us. Pope Francis has called the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time the “Sunday of the Word of God.” We are to recommit ourselves to God’s Word in the Bible by reading the Bible and studying Scripture.
Our first reading at Mass is from the book of the prophet Jonah. Jonah in the belly of the great fish is one of the best-known stories of the Bible especially when children are learning. We get the second part of the story in today’s first reading.
The name “Jonah” means “dove” in Hebrew, but Jonah’s character is anything but peaceful and dove-like. Jonah hears the word of God command him to go east to the great city of Nineveh, which was notorious for its lack of morals and the idolatrous, decadent lifestyle of its inhabitants. For Jonah, the Ninevites were terrible people doing terrible things including having taken his people into exile. He had no desire to go there even though God told him to do so. Instead of going east, Jonah flees toward the westernmost possible point, the port of Joppa. He buys passage for a boat trip to Tarshish which is even farther away from where God told him to go. It is beyond the Straits of Gibraltar in Spain.
No sooner than they go out in the boat when God sends a storm that scares the sailors and forces Jonah to identify himself as a Hebrew who was fleeing the Lord God. They threw Jonah into the sea and God sent a great fish to swallow him up for three days. Then Jonah was saved when the fish vomited him up on the land where he started.
So our reading takes up the story… God told Jonah again to go to Nineveh, Israel’s ancient enemy and preach that they had better change their ways or the city would be destroyed in 40 days. He obeys this time. Surprisingly, all, from king to lowliest subject, humble themselves in sackcloth and ashes. Seeing their repentance, God does not carry out the punishment planned for them.
At this, Jonah angrily complains and sulks because the Lord spares the Ninevites. He was disappointed to see that evil city respond to God’s message of repentance and a change of life! Jonah had not even finished the first day of his preaching before the people had totally turned around – doing visible penance while asking and hoping for God’s love, reconciliation and forgiveness.
Contrary to Jonah’s expectations, the pagan peoples of the city “believed in God” and “renounced their evil behavior”. The Lord teaches Jonah that God is merciful and loving towards all, not just to Israel.
The story teaches us a few things: that God is relentless to those called to be prophets, even when they don’t want to comply.
The story teaches us that there are consequences to bad behavior.
The story teaches us that repentance and giving up our evil ways is the way of growth and renewed life.
The story teaches us that there is such a thing as corporate sin which infects groups of people and systems.
The story teaches us that God truly desires that sinful people not be annihilated but change their ways and do penance.
But perhaps the greater change, the more radical turnabout, happened in Jonah himself. Jonah had been an arrogant, bigoted, narrow-minded prophet. He finally realized that God’s love is not limited – God’s forgiveness is not to be contained – God’s offer of salvation is for all – and we’d best not try to stop it.
I conclude by praying this prayer for peace that includes the themes of Jonah and is infused with the Good News of Jesus Christ. It challenges me to repent.
Prayer For World Peace
Great God, who has told us
“Vengeance is mine,”
save us from ourselves,
save us from the vengeance in our hearts
and the acid in our souls.
Save us from our desire to hurt as we have been hurt,
to punish as we have been punished,
to terrorize as we have been terrorized.
Give us the strength it takes
to listen rather than to judge,
to trust rather than to fear,
to try again and again
to make peace even when peace eludes us.
We ask, O God, for the grace
to be our best selves.
We ask for the vision
to be builders of the human community
rather than its destroyers.
We ask for the humility as a people
to understand the fears and hopes of other peoples.
We ask for the love it takes
to bequeath to the children of the world to come
more than the failures of our own making.
We ask for the heart it takes
to care for all the peoples
of the world as well as for ourselves.
Give us the depth of soul, O God,
to constrain our might,
to resist the temptations of power
to refuse to attack the attackable,
that vengeance begets violence,
and to bring peace—not war—wherever we go.
For You, O God, have been merciful to us.
For You, O God, have been patient with us.
For You, O God, have been gracious to us.
And so may we be merciful
with these others whom you also love.
This we ask through Jesus,
the one without vengeance in his heart.
This we ask forever and ever.