Third Sunday of the Year
22 January 2012
A young Russian in previous times, through reading Tolstoy and the New Testament, had become a conscientious objector to war. He was brought before a magistrate. With great conviction, he told the judge that he believed in a life which loves its enemies, which does good to those who despitefully use it, which battles evil and which refuses war.
The judge told the young man he understood what he was saying but asked him to be realistic. “What you are talking about is the kingdom of God and it has not come yet,” he said. The young man replied, “Sir, it may not have come for Russia and for the world but it has come for me and I cannot go on hating and killing as if it had not come.”
In a sense, the young Russian summed up what we believe about the Kingdom of God. In creating, God’s loving purpose was to establish his kingdom by sharing the gift of life with his creation. When Jesus said the Kingdom of God was close at hand he was telling us that God had already initiated his Kingdom when he shared his life with us through Him. His Kingdom now looks and longs towards its completion.
The created world is part of God’s plan and plays its part in leading us towards Him and his Kingdom. As winter shakes off its slumber, and we get glimpses of the rebirth of spring, we are reminded that the world entrusted to us can be wonderful, inscrutable and magical. The remarkable migratory birds will soon be on the wing and new shoots will re-emerge from branches and stems.
In the cautionary second reading, St. Paul advises the people of Corinth not to become engrossed in this marvellous world of ours. It is ours only for a while, and for our use. It is a responsibility. We are meant to treat it with respect, so that we can pass on to the next generation an inheritance which has been enhanced rather than damaged. We are meant to live life to the full, without forgetting that this is not a permanent residence. We are passing through. It is a temporary home.
The call of Simon, Andrew, James and John (sons of Zebedee) reminds us that we are called to make life better. We all have a gift to offer, a mission to be accepted and completed. We are asked to have a sense of God, calling us to do something worthwhile with our time and energy regardless of difficulty, danger or measure of financial reward.
A recruiter from a Teach America Programme came to a university one recent year. This organisation recruits the country’s best college and university students to go to work in the most impossible teaching situations. This recruiter knew his audience and took on the challenge. He began by saying “I don’t really know why I am here tonight. I can tell just by looking at you, that you are probably not interested in what I have to say. This is one of the best universities in America. You are all successful. That is why you are here, to become an even greater success on Wall Street or in law School or wherever.”
He went on, “Here I stand, trying to recruit some people for the most difficult job you could have in your life. I am looking for people who will go into a burnt-out classroom in Watts and teach biology. I’m looking for someone to go into a little one-room schoolhouse in West Virginia and teach kids from six to thirteen years old how to read. And I can tell, just by looking at you, that none of you wants to throw away your life on anything like that. On the other hand, if by chance there is somebody here who may be interested, I’ve got some brochures and I will leave them around and will be glad to speak to anyone who might consider taking up the challenge.” He had an exceptional response.
A friend of Abraham Lincoln’s, trying to console and support the President as he faced many difficult problems said, “I hope the Lord is on our side.” Lincoln replied kindly, “I’m not concerned about that, the Lord is always on the side of right. What I am concerned about is that we should be on the Lord’s side.” If we are on the Lord’s side, as we face the daily challenge of paying our mortgage and our bills, feeding and educating our children, we will also respond to God’s voice coming through the mouths of the poor, the sick, the broken, the needy and through the wounds which our planet shows due to our misuse. If we are on the Lord’s side, we will use his many gifts for the establishment and completion of his Kingdom on earth.
Many of us, unfortunately, are like Jonah about whom the First Reading speaks. We may be heading westwards while the Lord is calling us eastwards. But the Lord can bring good out of evil, and his plans can still be accomplished through the repentance of his people. To repent is to change and to move our perspective to God’s perceptive. It is to turn away from selfishness, laziness, stubbornness, possessiveness and greed. That will free us to use our gifts to make God’s kingdom come. “The time has come” Jesus himself said, “and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent and believe the Good News.” The invitation to follow in the footsteps of Simon, Andrew, James and John (sons of Zebedee) is still there.
+Liam S. MacDaid