We live in a society that expects things to be done, and done yesterday. A
few years ago, I went into a shop and bought a new rear windscreen wiper
for my car, but when I got it home, I was unable to fit it. I went back to
the shop, and one of the assistants had a go, but it was the wrong fitting.
He then went on the computer, ordered the correct one and said that if I
returned in the afternoon, it would be ready to fit. I was surprised that it
could be sorted so soon, and it was.
It is claimed things are speeding up. But we have to be careful not to look
back on the “olden days” with prejudice. I can remember, when I was on a
parish placement during my priestly training, I went with a primary school
class to the Willenhall Lock Museum. Upstairs, there was the manager’s
office, restored to how it would have been in Victorian times. The children
were asked, “Can you tell me where the phone is?” They pointed to
different things, but the answer each time was “no”. The phone hadn’t
been invented by then. But, the guide pointed out that the post was much
more frequent in those days, and could be something like five times a day.
So, when the post arrived, the manager could say to the postman, “just
wait a minute”. He would then open the letter he had been waiting for,
scribble a reply and give it back to the postman, and it could be back in
London a few hours later. Technology changes, but the human desire to
get things done does not.
We’re just starting now at the beginning of St Mark’s Gospel, and he
doesn’t like to wait around either. His Gospel is the shortest of all four and
is much more straight to the point. So in today’s Gospel reading, St Mark
captures the divine impatience. There’s no waiting around. “The time has
come … and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the
Good News.” There’s no time for, “well, I’ll think about it”. And look at
the calling of Simon and Andrew: “And at once they left their nets and
followed him”. The same with James and John: “He called them at once
and, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the men he employed,
they went after him.” There was no, “Lord, if you just let me finish today,
we can sort out the fish first, tidy up the nets, then get some sleep, and I’ll
see you sometime in the morning”. Compare this with another occasion,
where someone says to Him, “I will follow you, sir, but first let me go and
say good-bye to my people at home”. We might have said something like,
“And knowing you, how long will that take?” But instead, Jesus said to
him, “Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for
the kingdom of God” (see Luke 9:61-62).
Jesus is a bit like catching a bus or a train. If you stay chatting to people at
the bus stop or on the platform, it will leave without you.
Take a look at Jonah in the first reading. The book of Jonah is quite short
– it’s only two and a bit pages in my Bible, so you could maybe read it
before going to bed. Jonah is something of an unlikely prophet. He
received the message of God, but chose to run away. God said go to
Nineveh, and he decided to get on a boat for Tarshish instead to get away
from Him. The first reading begins when he is given a second chance:
“Up! … Go to Nineveh, the great city, and preach to them as I told you
to.” When I was training for the priesthood, someone in one of the years
above me said that he likened his calling to this: you know what it’s like
as a child when you’re playing outside, and your mother calls you to come
inside and eat. You pretend not to have heard, and keep on playing. Then
she calls again, but you still decide to continue what you are doing. Then
she calls a third time, and you realise that if you don’t answer now you’re
going to be in a lot of trouble. Jonah was perhaps a bit scared about what
God was asking him to do, but in the end, it worked out and the people of
Nineveh responded and changed their ways.
What is God calling us to do? Are there any ways in which we have been
ignoring His voice, in our own personal life, at school, at work, at home or
any other setting? In the second reading, St Paul tells us: “Our time is
growing short … the world as we know it is passing away”. He wants us
to focus on the spiritual, and not allow other things or people to distract us.
Frank Duff, who founded the Legion of Mary, said that life is a bit like a
fast-flowing river. If we put our hands in the water later, they will still get
wet, but the water that was flowing earlier has already passed down the
river. If we are deliberately late, there is still work to be done, but the
earlier work has left us by.
Christ is calling us now. The less important things will just have to wait.
Curious about exploring things further? If you would like to ask further questions about the topics raised in these homilies (or maybe think it wasn’t explained too well!), please feel free to e-mail Fr Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org