Third Sunday after Epiphany; 24 January 2021; Epiphany 3B (RCL); Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:6-14; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20.
All of the readings for this week seem short and abrupt, and leave more unsaid than they say. We get only a tiny piece of the story of Jonah — his second call. We miss his running away to Tarshish, the three days in the belly of the fish, and then it leaves off the end of the story — Jonah being angry about the plant. All we get is his short sermon to Nineveh.
The call of the disciples in Mark’s Gospel seems equally truncated. How is that Simon and Andrew, James and John decide so quickly to drop everything and follow Jesus? And the little snippet from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians seems taken out of a larger context. All of this makes it seem like we’re missing parts of the story.
Jonah was probably written long after the events it claims to narrate. Nineveh was the capital of Assyrian, the Empire that conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. In it’s turn, it was sacked by the Babylonians, Medes, Persians and others. The story carries quite a bit of humor, especially in Jonah pouting about the plant that withered. He also pouts that God did not destroy Nineveh, as promised. Part of the belief of the chosen people was that God would pay back their enemies, and yet, here in this story, Nineveh is converted by Jonah’s sermon (the shortest on record!)
Part of the humorous point of the story is that Israel’s enemies repent more earnestly that Jerusalem herself. That’s why Jonah pouts. God’s plan seems to include the Ninevites (and even their cattle!). This is a completely new theological perspective.
The story of the calling of the disciples in Mark’s Gospels leaves us convinced that there must have been more to the story — how could they go so quickly? Simon and Andrew were probably poor. They were throwing a hand net, likely standing knee deep in the water. The net was probably all they owned. So, when someone announces a new kingdom, it makes a little sense that they might follow.
But James and John stood to inherit their father’s business (he owned a boat), so it’s a little more shocking that they should go.
In the snippet from 1 Corinthians, Paul tells his hearers that the current order is passing away, so they should live as if they have no stake in it. Clearly, Simon and Andrew, James and John were living in that way.
Given what we have been through in the past few weeks, perhaps we, too, need to hear Paul’s call to us, to live as if our real stake were in another kingdom, ready to go where it might call us. It seems hopeful that Paul places this current order in its proper context. This is not the end (in the sense of goal) of things in God’s plan. We should live always on the watch for that other order of things called into being by God, ready to drop everything and move toward it when it calls us.