The Story of Faith

This weekend’s readings get me a little turned around and confused. Taken in a vacuum, one might mistake these readings for, either just before or even during, Advent. The sort of themes we encounter this week are quite at home in those contexts.

Repentance, preparedness and the shortness of time all resonate with the Advent message of making a straight path for God, of course. However, what we hear today is different and feels much more collegial — that is, it sounds more like believers encouraging one another, reminding each other, in love, of the stakes in our contest against sin.

Incidentally, this is but one view of the role of the Church in the life of each Christian and only one facet of the nature of the Church.

Unlike the Advent voice of the “endtimes” and “now is a very acceptable time,” the prevalent tone is what we hear in the verse to this week’s Gospel Acclamation, the Alleluia: “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.”

It is a call, not so much to conversion, as to mending one’s ways. It has less to do with “scaring them straight,” and more to do with encouraging a brother, sister or a beloved friend to embrace the ways we know will bring that friend closer to Christ. There is a note of the impending possibility of failure and also the fact that the current direction is not healthy or sustainable, but greater is the sense of a higher, better way of living that is within reach.

First, we hear the end of the famous story of Jonah, wherein he finally fulfills his mission. Jonah arrived at the metropolis of Nineveh and proclaimed a message of approaching destruction. Striking, however, is the great weight put on the response of the people of the city, as if Jonah’s prophetic role were somehow easy. After a mere day, the word had spread so thoroughly throughout the place and was so accepted that all took to methods of repentance, “they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth” (Jonah 3:5).

The Psalm then gives voice to our own prayer, “Teach me your ways, O Lord.”

If I were to summarize the meaning of the second reading, I would say simply, “don’t get bogged down in the distractions of the world.” Or, according to the axiom, “don’t sweat the small stuff” of this temporary and limited season. There are greater and more efficient ways to get right with God.

Finally, these readings culminate in the Gospel, wherein Simon (Peter) and his brother Andrew, as well as the brothers, James and John, lay aside the trappings of earthly occupations and follow Christ. Not only this, but the Lord offers them a new job. “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Mark 1:17).

Over the course of a few short readings, we were taken from the need to repent to the reason for repentance – not avoidance of punishment but a greater calling. We’re not just called to cease from sin and evil, but we are called to walk and to live close to Jesus. Finally, we’re not called to merely do something for Christ, but to do something for Christ with Christ.

These readings are, in brief, the story of faith – to be called, to seek, to leave behind the old way and to live a new life with Jesus.

David Dunst

Music Director

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