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Third Sunday in ordinary time: See clearly, live simply

Jonah 3, 1-5.10; 1 Corinthians 7, 29-31; Mk 1, 14-20.

In today’s Scripture readings there is a call to repentance coupled with a sense of urgency. What does a call to repentance amount to today? Jonah went across Nineveh urging people to change their lives under the threat that the city will be destroyed. In Mark’s gospel, Jesus went to Galilee proclaiming the good news, saying “the time has come” and urging people to repent and believe. St Paul in 1 Corinthians also says that “our time is growing short” and that “the world as we know it is passing away”.

Repentance and conversion are not always to be reduced to sin and confession. It is also about changing one’s perspective on life, about the inner freedom not to become owned by things rather than own them. It is about letting go of what weighs us down, making us miserable and life unlivable. It is about seeing clearly what we are living for and living simply – two great daunting tasks that are not at all easy. But we need to think about all this before it’s too late.

The sense of urgency marking today’s Scriptures is in not linked to some form of apocalyptic perception of reality, proclaiming an imminent end of the world. The urgency is because we are losing precious time and the way people live often robs from them the joy of life.

In 1 Corinthians, St Paul writes: “Those who are enjoying life should live as though there were nothing to laugh about.” St Paul has been interpreted as being against the joy of living. But rather than devaluing life on earth, he is suggesting we seek what is really essential in life, to be more appreciative of that inner freedom that can help us see clearly and not become enslaved to ourselves or to our belongings.

Learning to let go is one of the most important lessons in life. The sense of urgency underlined in the Scriptures today is not a threat that something imminent is about to happen, but an invitation to open our eyes lest we realise some important things in life only when it’s too late.

In today’s first reading, the prophet Jonah received a second call, having ignored the first one. But his message to Nineveh was important and timely. Just as these biblical eye-openers are timely for us today. The fundamental questions will always haunt us: ‘What am I living for?’ and ‘What is it that hinders me from letting go?’

Each Man Kills the Thing He Loves is the title track of an album released in 1989 and taken from Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Goal. It sounds very true when we look around or even when we look inside us and seek a diagnosis of how we are living. It often happens that we become so taken up and ‘owned’ by what we do every day, by our careers, by what exactly we live for, that we end up ignoring our own dreams, what we really love doing.

What happens then is that our dream is so deeply buried in our soul that it simply fades away and even dies. This is how I would read today’s gospel narrative of the calling in Mark among the first four disciples. We cannot take the text literally, as if while these four fishermen were at work, Jesus passes by, invites them to follow him and they just leave everything and do so. I am sure that even for them it took time to let go of who they were up to that time.

Jesus for them was a dream that opened a new window in their life beyond their daily routine. Dreams are important in life. It always takes time to let a dream or a call sink in. Everything takes time. But there has to be a time when to discern, to prioritise and eventually to take decisions and take control of one’s life. Life is beautiful and is worth living. Whatever impacts negatively the quality of life is a hindrance to our wholeness and stops our growth.

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