One of the things that I think plagues us modern people is that we tend to have delusions of eternity. By that I mean, we tend to have a view that we have all the time in the world, and so we put off things that are truly important, because we always think we have plenty of time. We put off going to confession, because we don’t have time to think about that right now, and besides it takes time to examine our conscience. We put off being of service, because the kids have sports and we don’t even know where to start. We put off our prayer life because we’re exhausted and it’s hard to quiet ourselves and let God speak to us. It’s no wonder someone once said, “One of the greatest labor-saving inventions of today is tomorrow.”
So the readings today really speak to us. The theme today is that there really is no time like the present. In our first reading, after some procrastinating of his own, and ending up in the belly of a big fish, God has him disgorged on the shores of Nineveh to do what he was sent to do: preach repentance to the Ninevites. The Ninevites were unspeakably evil to the Israelites, so it’s no wonder Jonah dragged his feet when it came to preaching to them. Why would they listen to him? And who cares if they didn’t? Let God destroy them, he thought, and be out of our hair forever. But that was not God’s will. So he preaches repentance to them, and notice what happens: they immediately put on sackcloth and ashes and take up a fast. They do penance for their evil deeds right now, and thus God repents of the punishment he had planned to inflict on them.
In our second reading, Saint Paul is very clear with the Corinthians: time is running out. And because time is running out, there is no time like the present to cast off the concerns of this earthly existence. So stop worrying about purely human relationships, stop worrying about weeping, rejoicing, buying and selling and using the world. Because there’s not going to be a world here for long.
Now, I should mention that Saint Paul was certainly writing out of the view that people of his day generally had, which is that the second coming of Christ and the final judgment would happen very soon. It did not, obviously, happen in their lifetimes, but the message is still valid. We don’t know how much time we will have, and so ultimately we must always be prepared to go to heaven. We can’t be putting it off: we have to cast off cares that are purely rooted in this life and hitch our wagons to what will bring us to the life to come.
And so we see the issue brought out in the call of the first apostles. Jesus passes by a fishing town and calls to Andrew, Peter, James and John. They don’t hesitate for a second when he tells them to “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” They leave behind the boats, their fishing equipment, their family and even the workers who were hired to help them and follow Jesus.
I always wonder what made them do that. I mean, here Jesus just passes by, gives them a one-sentence command, and they drop everything and follow him. There was no plan laid out, he didn’t give them a bunch of reasons why they should do what he asked of them. He just commanded, and they just followed. Now, it occurs to me that perhaps they knew about Jesus beforehand. Maybe they had heard him speak or at least heard people talk about Jesus. So perhaps they were very eager to meet him.
And one wonders, too, how good they actually were at fishing. Other stories in the Gospel seem to suggest they didn’t have much success. They really never catch anything worth noting unless Jesus is there, telling them to put out into deep water, even though they had been hard at it all night. Then they bring in hundreds of fish.
So maybe their quick obedience to the call of discipleship is a combination of things: they have a hard life and maybe aren’t making much of a living; they probably heard Jesus talk or heard about the miracles he had been performing; he spoke of a better life and the promise of eternity. Maybe all of this made them very eager to jump at the chance to follow Jesus. But whatever the reason is, we need to see that when they are called they follow immediately. They don’t put it off; they don’t say, hey, let us bring in fish for today and send the hired men home. They don’t ask for time to say goodbye to their family, they don’t hesitate even for a moment. There is no time like the present: come, follow me.
We disciples also are called to be fishers of men. And there is no time like the present. We may not have tomorrow, so we have to preach the Good News to those God puts in our path, through our words and most importantly through our actions. We don’t know when Jesus will return in glory and demand – as he is most worthy to demand – an accounting of our life and our blessings, so we have to reach out and be of service to every person in need, no matter who they are, even if they are as unspeakably evil as the Ninevites. And on this day of prayer for the Sanctity of Human Life, in remembrance of the sad decision of Roe v Wade in 1973, we have to be a people who pray and write our legislators and take a stand for life in any way we can. Thousands of babies die from abortion every year, the sick elderly are ignored, racism and discrimination continue even in this day and age, and so much more. We know, we have been taught that life is precious from conception to natural death. We need to tell the world how urgent that is so that no more lives would be wasted or suppressed for convenience.
The work of discipleship is of the utmost importance and is extremely urgent, souls need to be saved, hearts need to be won for the kingdom, lives need to be changed – and so we have to be willing to do it right now, not just when we’re good and ready, not when we have a few moments, not when things settle down a bit.
The Kingdom of God is that important, brothers and sisters. When will we respond? When will we give everything to follow God’s call in our own lives? It better be now, because the world as we know it is passing away.