Jonah 3:1-5, 10 / 1 Cor 7:29-31 / Mark 1:14-20
As we sit down to listen to the homily, some of us may habitually or instinctively glance at our watches. It is not that we want to time the homily to see how long it is going to take. (Anyway I have already timed it – it’s going to take about 7 minutes)
Since most of us wear a watch or have some kind of timepiece, it only goes to show how important time is to us.
More than just wanting to know the time of the day, we also want to know how much time we have for the next appointment, whether we will be on time or not, and just how much time we have for the things that we have planned.
But we also understand time in a much broader sense. There is the “first time” that marks a new experience or a new encounter.
There is the “next time” where we will be more prepared from what we have learnt before. There is the “last time” which can mean how we have always done things in the past, or when we want to put an end to something.
And of course there is the famous “no time” to mean how busy we are. But actually it is just another way of saying that it’s not our priority so we have no time for it. Or that we just don’t want to do it, so we say we have no time.
If we noticed in the 1st reading, it begins with “The word of the Lord was addressed a second time to Jonah”. So it was the second time that God called Jonah. So what happened at the first time?
Putting it simply, at the first time, Jonah had no time because he didn’t want to do what God wanted of him, because it was not to his liking.
God told him to go east to Nineveh, and he went west to go sailing. God told him to preach, but he went to the beach. In other words, God said “go” but he said “no”.
We might have heard of the story of Jonah, how he sailed off to escape from God, but a storm blew up and he had to be thrown overboard to quell the storm, and got swallowed up by a big fish, often-known-as, a whale.
But even the big fish can’t stand him because after three days in its belly, it threw him up on the shore. It was probably the first time and the last time that Jonah would want to be in the belly of a big fish.
But those three days in the belly of the big fish has a spiritual meaning. Because it was a time for Jonah to think about things. The point of all this is that Jonah was taken into the depths so that he could rise again. It was as if that for Jonah to move onwards, he must pass inwards.
Something in Jonah must give in before he can give up. Enlightenment can only come about after an experience of purification. And Jonah’s experience indeed has a lesson for us.
Like Jonah, we may not have paid attention at the first time; we may not have responded to God’s direction for us. But God still calls out to us the second time, or even the next time.
But the 2nd reading also tells us that our time is growing short, and that our time in this world is passing on, slowly but surely.
And Jesus, in the gospel, would announce it even more urgently: The time has come, and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent and believe in the Good News.
In whatever time of our life that we are in, there is an appointed time when God calls out to us and waits for our response.
When the appointed time came for Jonah, he had to respond. When the appointed time came for Simon and Andrew, for James and John, they too responded and did what God wanted of them.
They left their nets and their boats and followed Jesus, and they can only trust Him that He knows the plans He has for them, plans for their good and not for disaster, plans to give them hope and a future. (cf Jeremiah 29:11)
Doing what they did would certainly leave us feeling insecure. And at times we might feel that we are like being swallowed up by a big fish and left tumbling and swirling around in the darkness of the belly of the world.
Here is where a reflection of time can be helpful and it is put in just four words – First, Next, Then, Last.
First: God brought me to this. The will of God will never take me to where the grace of God will not protect me. In that I will be at peace.
Next: God will keep me in His love to behave as His child in this trial. God will never give us more than we can take. He will let us bend, but He will never let us break.
Then: He will turn the trial into a blessing and will teach me lessons that He wants me to learn. God doesn’t just want us to go through it; He wants us to grow through it.
Last: In God’s good time, He will bring me out and let me rise and shine. Then we realize that in order for the light to shine brightly, the darkness must be present.
So just four words connected with time – First, Next, Then, Last. May we know that time after time, whether it is First, Next, Then or Last, it is all in God’s appointed time.
We end off with a short prayer to the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that stands at the entrance of the Church:
O Jesus, You stand there, generation after generation
Receiving our prayer and petition
Stretching out Your hands in love and mercy
Touching ours that are so unworthy
Healing our sins and sorrow
Giving us hope for tomorrow. Amen.