Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
I never thought this would happen to me. This is a lament we hear too often these days. Unexpected trauma and tragedy can bring a devastating closure to what could and should have been a normal life. I never thought there would be a school shooting here in Iowa. I never thought I would be fired from my job. I never thought I would end up living on the streets or in a nursing home. I never thought she would ask for a divorce.
There are unforeseen and unthought of events that sweep away the very ground we live on. All that we thought we could depend upon and count on, the very framework that held all the pieces together and gave them meaning suddenly disappearing. Most of us tend to live in a middle-class spirituality. All things in moderation, nothing exorbitant. We go to bed confident everything will be there and the same in the morning. Grateful for what we have and using good sense in managing it. A far cry from those nasty Ninevites. We go fishing and mend our nets in the comforting embrace of family and friends. Yes, we’re doing very well: even have hired employees. Surviving, and then some.
But that narrative we are telling and spinning out does have some I thought this would never happen to me moments. The moments we were crushed and burned by some loss rejection, by a refusal to be accepted at a vulnerable point. We had to pass through traumatic disappointments with authority figures (including our parents). Broken families and relationships. The invasion of illness and old age that question our self-respect (to say nothing of our social loss of place). Worse can be those impediments coming from our own dark side that weigh us down. I thought I would have that under control by now. And then there are the global crises. Political chaos. Threatening climate change. Irruptions of wars. Dissension in the Church and social collapses that deserve the cry: I never thought this would happen in my life. Dwindling communities. One look around the monastery easily merits the cry: I never thought this would happen to me.
This grim picture can readily invite a temptation to fatalism, despair, or at least finding a scapegoat to blame. But this is not listening to our readings today. The response God calls for is repentance. They are a call to repentance. They are not an indictment demanding imposition of painful restraint and reparations. They are a call to believe the Gospel. Believing the Gospel means living out of its inspiration and grace, out of the vision and hope that come from the fact that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repentance is only possible because you believe the Gospel and its gift of mercy and freedom to live otherwise. It is a creative energy, not an enslaving one. We didn’t see the other options before. The call rings in our hearts. The Lord is making us otherwise in the midst of our concerns and loves. I will make you fishers of men. Hang on for the transformation in the midst of where you are. I never thought this would happen to me.
To be called is to enter an on-going relationship. It is not having a badge on our chest or even being given spiritual homework. We are called out of our dormant and myopic lifestyles to walk the path unfolding before us as we walk. Follow me.
I recently went for a hearing test which clearly demonstrated that I had trouble picking out a voice and speech from background noises. That seemed like a good image of the difficulty in hearing God’s call and voice in the midst of all the countervailing voices which can drown out his call. A sensitivity to his call grows and develops in prayer, to know it as God’s word in me. The call includes an invitation to act, to live otherwise in the midst of the world of having wives, weeping, rejoicing, buying, using the world. That the word and call we hear is really God’s word and call brings us to a life that we could never have thought would happen. We never would have thought that we would be so privileged as to live and be called at such a crucial time in the world’s history.