ordinary time The Sánchez Archives

Year B

Patricia Datchuck Sánchez

Dealing With Discrepancies

JONAH 3:1-5, 10
MARK 1:14-20

Few will argue with the fact that God’s concerns are universal and that the call to discipleship has been graciously and indiscriminately extended to all people, of every race, nationality, gender, creed and background. However, when it devolves upon the believing community to make God’s concerns their own and to reach out with a universal embrace to realize those concerns, there is often a gaping chasm between the ideal we know should exist and the reality we too easily accept. What can account for this discrepancy?

Jesus, in today’s gospel (Mark) is featured as announcing the presence of the reign of God and of calling to repentance and faith all those who would experience that reign in their lives. To help him in his ministry, Jesus called some fishermen to be his disciples and explained that, in his company, they would become fishers of humankind. Just as they had pulled their nets through the Sea of Galilee and hauled to shore all varieties and species of fish, so would their commitment to Jesus require them to draw all manner of people to God. However, as is evidenced in the Christian scriptures and in the annals of history, the ministry of the church was not always as inclusive in its embrace as was Jesus. What can account for this discrepancy?

Jonah, in the first reading, had been sent by God to call to repentance the people of Nineveh. The capital city of Assyria, Nineveh was the most grandiose and powerful city in the ancient world during the reigns of Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal. But the city was also notorious for its lack of morals and the idolatrous, decadent life-style of its inhabitants. However, God’s concerns extended even to those foreign pagans and he sent Jonah to them to preach repentance. Jonah, for his part, was loathe to go and bemoaned the fact that his mission was successful! He hated the Ninevites and would have danced for joy on their graves rather than see them forgiven by God. Why such a discrepancy between God’s concerns and Jonah’s?

All such discrepancies can be answered in one word: bigotry. Bigotry creates the gaping chasm between God’s universal vision and the often myopic and selective insight of believers. Bigotry decides that certain people are better than others and more worthy of attention, while it writes off others as valueless and not worth the effort.

Bigotry went to the Berlin Olympics in 1936. Jesse Owens, a black American track and field athlete won four gold medals but the leader of the host country refused to acknowledge him. Until 1954, bigotry relegated immigrants to this country to places like Ellis Island. Many remained there for months; many were unsympathetically deported. Bigotry has gone to the voting polls several times since 1954 to further limit the rights and freedoms of immigrants. Bigotry organized and executed the systematic annihilation of six million Europeans whose beliefs and traditions were considered a threat to racial purity. Bigotry rounded up and forcibly detained Asian-American citizens during World War II. Bigotry denied women in the U.S. the right to vote until 1921. Bigotry walked the streets of Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965 when advocates of civil rights were clubbed and tear-gassed by police and stoned and beaten with bottles by opponents of integration.

Given these instances of its presence (and there are countless others), bigotry is such an ugly word, that, while we readily recognize it in others, few of us are willing to consider it as a possible, personal flaw. Perhaps if we were to ask ourselves a few pointed questions. . . Do I consider anyone or any group as a lost cause and therefore beyond the scope of my ministry as a Christian? Is there a certain race or ethnic group I’d rather not have as a neighbor? son or daughter-in-law? boss? When ethic jokes are told, do I laugh as loudly as anyone else? What if the experience of Jonah were to be contemporized... If a call went out for a modern day Jonah to be dispatched to modern day Assyria (Iraq!) and mandated to preach repentance to Saddam Hussein and his colleagues, would I volunteer for the job? Would I think it a worthwhile endeavor? Would I put off my trip or would I labor with the sense of urgency which Paul describes in today’s second reading. Would I rejoice if my mission were successful? Do I truly believe the reign of God and the good news of salvation are for all without exception? Are there discrepancies between God’s concerns and my own?

Jonah, Paul and Mark challenge this gathered assembly to consider these questions today and to deal with any discrepancies we may discover.

JONAH 3:1-5, 10

In the more than fifty years since the promulgation of the encyclical, Divino Afflante Spiritu, and in the thirty years since the Second Vatican Council, most Catholic Christians have been brought up to speed with mainline Protestant believers in the understanding that the Bible is like a library, comprised of several different literary genres. Prior to 1943 (Divino Afflante Spiritu), many sincere Christians humbly surrendered their intelligence and common sense to a merely literal interpretation of Scripture. No doubt, the book of Jonah and his adventures with the great fish required a profound effort. Even if readers of Scripture succeeded in wrapping their minds around such an incredible tale, they often missed the real point of the narrative intended by its inspired author. Happily, however, biblical scholars have led contemporary believers to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the scriptures by recognizing and utilizing all the hermeneutic tools available.

Not an historic account, but a didactic fiction, i.e. a story told in order to educate, the Jonah narrative had a double lesson for the inhabitants of Judah. First, in sending the main character of the story to foreign, pagan, Nineveh, the universality of God’s saving purpose was underscored. Second, in the bigoted persona of Jonah, the parochial and nationalistic Judahites were to recognize a caricature of themselves and to accept the challenge to broaden their concerns in order to bring them into line with those of God. Moreover, the value and quality of spirit attributed to the Ninevites was intended to awaken in the people of Judah an attitude of respect for and acceptance of others, who were often regarded as sub-human or as animals (dogs, swine). Notice that when Jonah preached his short message, the Ninevites believed God (v. 5). Conversion in Nineveh was effected, not by prophetic eloquence (Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed!?!) but by God’s power.

Traditionally, the book of Jonah was attributed to a prophet who ministered during the reign of Jeroboam II (783-743 B.C.E.). But the book probably appeared in the post-exilic period (400-200 B.C.E.) when Judah’s efforts to reconstruct their religious and political heritage resulted in an excess of nationalism and a growing suspiciousness and disdain for all things foreign. Many Jews believed that interaction with other peoples and cultures would dilute and adulterate the traditions they were so eager to preserve. The fact that the city of Nineveh had been destroyed long before (612 B.C.E.) the book of Jonah appeared is further indication of the fictional character of the story. But, fictional or not, the lessons taught in Jonah are real, timeless and deserving of attention. There is something of Jonah in each of us.


In addition to helping Christians to take into account the literary genre of a particular piece of Scripture, nineteenth and twentieth century scholarship has also underscored the importance of understanding the sitz im leben or life situation of the scriptural author and his/her readers. Today’s short selection from Paul’s first letter to Corinth affords us an excellent opportunity for demonstrating the necessity of good scholarship.

Many have read these words of Paul and have misconstrued his exhortation as a slur on: (1) the institution of marriage and family. . . “those with wives should live as though they had none” (v. 29); (2) normal expressions of human emotions. . . “those who weep should live as thought they were not. . . those who rejoice should live as though they were not. . . (v. 30); (3) making a living. . . “buyers should conduct themselves as though they owned nothing, etc. (v. 31).

But the apostle himself, has given two hints toward a correct assessment of his advice. By reminding his converts in Corinth that “the time is short” (v. 29) and “the world as we know it is passing away” (v. 31), Paul reflected the early church’s hope and understanding that the time of the parousia was near; indeed Jesus’ second advent was so imminent as to warrant the primary attention of believers.

Whereas Jesus, during his ministry had counseled his disciples to seek first the reign of God and assured them that all else would be given them besides (Luke 12;31), Paul advised his readers (seven times!) to live hos me, i.e. as if or as though their central focus was on Jesus and his coming. Paul did not call for an end of marriage or the ordinary affairs of everyday human life, but he did wish his converts to consider all of their efforts, activities and concerns as subordinate to and reflective of their commitment to Christ.

Critics of Paul have dismissed this teaching as time-bound and therefore irrelevant to a church which will soon enter into the third millennia since Jesus’ first advent. But that would be to misunderstand Paul’s repetitive call to “live as though. . .” Christian life does not begin with the parousia; it begins with baptism into the saving mystery of Christ’s dying and rising. Since believers are already initiated into a life that will continue beyond death’s passage into eternity, they are to live, here and now as though they are already in absolute unending union with God. This requires that every human word and deed be consonant with the mind and heart of Christ. Far from being an excuse for non-involvement in the affairs of this world, Christian commitment requires a thoroughgoing, participation in every facet of the human experience, so as to draw it ever nearer to sanctification and redemption.

MARK 1:14-20

Just as the first and second readings were better understood in light of contemporary biblical scholarship, so also is today’s gospel pericope from Mark. A glance at last Sunday’s gospel (Johannine account of the calling of the first disciples), will reveal the fact that the evangelists were not precise chroniclers of Jesus’ words and works. Rather each inspired writer, with his own personal talents and sources, has taken the oral tradition preserved within his community and has shaped a gospel according to his own christological and soteriological insights, and in keeping with the pastoral situation and concerns of his readers. For this reason, the same events, e.g., Jesus’ calling of his disciples, have been presented somewhat differently by each of the evangelists.

According to Mark, Jesus’ public ministry began after John the Baptizer’s arrest. A more accurate rendering of Mark’s account indicated that John was handed over. The same phrase will be used by the evangelist later in the gospel to describe Jesus’ being handed over to the suffering, death and resurrection which would effect salvation (9:31; 10:33; 14:10, 11, 44). Mark would also use this term in reference to the disciples of Jesus being handed over to those who would take them to court, beat them, hate them and kill them because of their commitment to Jesus (13:9-13). From the outset, the Marcan evangelist pulls no punches; for all who become involved with Jesus, there will be suffering.

The inaugural declaration of Jesus as presented in Mark is a call to reform and faith (v. 15). Just as association with Jesus will involve suffering so also will discipleship necessitate conversion. In Hebrew, the word for reform is shubh which means an about-face or a deliberate change of direction; in Greek, the term meta-noiein means a change of mind, heart, will, intention and motivation.

Unfortunately, many believers understand conversion as an event which occurs only once in a person’s life. But conversion is a process-event which, once initiated, must be renewed daily, moment by moment, word by word, deed by deed. As Mark’s gospel progresses, it will become obvious, that without daily conversion discipleship is not possible.

Notice that Simon, Andrew, James and John were called to exercise the skills they had already learned in life, viz., fishing. But their following of Christ would bring about a transformation in them, such that their skills would be brought to a new level and be dedicated to a new purpose. In their following of Jesus, they would be about the business of drawing others to him, to God and therefore to salvation.

For contemporary readers of Mark’s gospel, this narrative offers a definite reason for rejoicing. Jesus did not go to the synagogue, temple, university or Sanhedrin to call the best and the brightest to himself. His followers are chosen from every walk of life. The initiative for discipleship, just as the initiative for conversion is rooted in the call of Jesus. We, for our part, would do well to follow the lead of our predecessors in responding immediately (v. 18) and with a wholehearted abandon (vv. 18, 20) which daily chooses Jesus first and glories in the blessings of “all else besides” (Luke 12:31).

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Illustration prepared by Julie Lonneman.

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