3rd Sunday in Ordinary Times
Jonah 3:1-5,10; 1 Cor. 7:29-31; Gospel Mark 1:14-20
We are in God's Hands . . . All will be Well
Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of the Good Shepherd - Singapore, on 14 January 2018

In today’s Gospel, we heard proclaimed that when Jesus calls the fishermen: Simon and Andrew, and James and John to be His Apostles, they “at once they left their nets and followed Him.”  Such a “prompt and radical” response is not so much about the immediacy of the response of the apostles to Jesus’ call, but that their responses were decisive, unconditional and wholehearted. 

Even as Jesus may expect such a response from us, we can very well imagine or feel in our hearts that we are “not ready” or for many of us we may feel that we are not “holy or worthy or good enough” to say “yes” to Jesus’ call to serve Him; whatever this may be. 

There is a story of David who remained unmarried his whole life, even though his friends knew that he had always wanted to get married and have a family.  When he was on his dying bed, a close friend asked him, “David, why is it that you never got married?  Is there a secret that we who are married or wish to get married do not know?”  David replied, with tears in his eyes, “Yes, I had wanted to get married, so I was searching for the perfect woman to be my wife.  Finally, one day, I found someone and was overjoyed.  "Then what happened, why didn’t you marry her?” David’s friend asked, “Well, the woman was searching for a perfect husband . . . and I was not good enough for her."

My brothers and sisters in Christ, when we reflect on our lives, it is understandable if many of us feel that we are not yet ready because we are not talented or “holy enough” to be worthy of Jesus’ call to serve Him, then like David in our story, let us remember that we will never be the perfect person we wish to be and be fully worthy to do God’s Will.  This is because unlike David and the woman in our story who were looking to marry the “perfect spouse”, when Jesus calls us, He sees something in us that we are in all probability not even aware of.  This could perhaps be our undeveloped talents, our potential goodness, compassion or zeal in our hearts to serve God and witness to His Good News of Salvation.  This, I believe is precisely what happened, when Jesus called the apostles. 

When Jesus calls us to be His disciple, then it is Jesus; and NOT US, who considers us to be worthy and “ready” for His call.  And so, in today’s Gospel, when Jesus called the Apostles Simon, Andrew, James and John, He saw “something in them”; some qualities or some potential virtues that were present in the Apostles, that the Apostles even did not know they had, as none of them felt worthy to be called to be Jesus’ Apostles.  The Acts of the Apostles 4:13 describes, them as “uneducated, ordinary men.” 

Jesus knew very well that the Good News that He proclaims needs to be spread throughout the entire Roman Empire.  For such a gigantic mission, one would expect that Jesus ought to have chosen men who attended the Rabbinic schools, and were prominent rabbis, teachers, prophets, priests, people with some public status or office.  Instead, Jesus chose ordinary uneducated fishermen. 

However, we know that once these apostles received the Holy Spirit, they all overcame their fear and inhibitions and proclaimed the Gospel to all peoples regardless of the trials and persecution they suffered.  In fact, ten out of the twelve apostles died a martyr’s death for the faith in the Good News that Jesus proclaimed and witnessed.  And, by the end of the first century, the Good News had spread to almost all parts of the Roman Empire! 

There is also a story of John and Jane who were returning home.  They were crossing a lake in a boat, when suddenly a great storm arose.  The John who was a warrior remained calm while Jane his wife was frantic as the huge waves were threatening to swallow them. 

Jane shouted at John, Are you not afraid?  Are you mad or something?  Only a miracle can save us!  John took out his sword and pointed it at Jane, as though to threaten her and said, “Are you afraid?  Jane was deeply puzzled and said, “No, I am not; as long as the sword is in your hands.  I am not afraid because after all these years of being married to you, I know you would not harm me, because you love me.”  John then put his sword away and replied.  “This is precisely why I am not afraid.  I know God loves us, and the storm is in His Hands . . .”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, are there “storms in our lives that are preventing us from saying “yes” to Jesus who wants us to serve Him and His people?  Are we preventing ourselves from saying “yes” to God because we are fearful of the making the commitment to love and serve Him more wholeheartedly?  Are our reluctances to serve God and live in His ways because we are fearful of what may happen to us in our lives, in the future?

Randy Hain, a Catholic author of six books; a well sort after presenter and a convert to the Catholic faith commented, “When we are experiencing success in business and our personal lives are flourishing, do we think about putting the Lord first in our lives?   Is submitting to God’s Will our top priority?  Do we thank Him? 

Randy shared further of how he went into the church one morning feeling very helpless and lost.  He said, “I knew I needed help as I no longer had the answers to the pains and trials I was facing.  I remember praying silently to God to lead me as I was no longer in charge of my life; I felt so weak because I had never asked God for anything before as I was self-sufficient and are totally in control of my life.  I didn’t know how to relinquish control of the things in my life.  However, when I prayed that morning, God gave me the wisdom to stop trying to control everything in my life; including my family.  Our Lord was inviting me to sincerely surrender everything to His Will.  As soon as I opened my heart to His Will, I suddenly felt a surge of strength and a sense of deep peace within my heart; it felt like a wind blowing right through me. 

At that very moment of grace, I was able to give up more than twenty years of my stubbornness, ego, and pride that had been accumulating since I was a teenager.  However, I have to admit that I still struggle with placing Christ first in every aspect of my life, and I have problems like everyone else.
The big difference that I am experiencing is that, I now know and deeply believe that Jesus will always forgive me, love me, guide me, and bless me regardless of what happens to me.  And this Truth about Jesus keeps me coming back again and again to the place where I pray the words, “I surrender Lord, please lead me.”

Yet sadly, so many good people I encounter each day struggle with this idea of surrender.  I observe men and women every day who come so close to accepting the graces of the gift of a deeper faith and a closer relationship with Jesus, but sadly they choose to walk away from it.  Why?  After countless conversations with a large number of my brothers and sisters in Christ, I have come to the conclusion that the two main obstacles we have in the way of our trustful surrender to the Lord are: pride and fear.  

Do any of these obstacles resonate with you?  At various times, they have all clicked with me.  When our pride gets hold of us, we forget our roles outside of the workplace: we easily forget that we are also a spouse, parent, or friend to someone.   When fear controls our faith, we fail to submit to Christ and His divine Will.   We then end up making excuses where we create barriers between God and us.  In order to avoid these obstacles, therefore, it’s important to know how and when to surrender.

Also, sad to say, we often turn to Jesus for help and strength, only when we are in crisis.  While crises can be a helpful catalyst to awaken us to truly and unreservedly surrender to God’s Will, we should not wait until our backs are against the wall before we go on our knees to pray the words, “I am no longer in charge Jesus, please lead me.”

My sisters and brothers in Christ, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves that Jesus, as in today’s Gospel is calling you and I to listen to His call to serve Him and His people in some unique personal call to the vocation to the priesthood and religious life or perhaps Jesus is calling us to be more compassionate in our ways of caring for the aged, sick, our needy parents . . . or perhaps to pay greater attention to our depressed spouse or confused children . . . who are crying out for help.

However, if we find ourselves saying that we are not worthy enough, or the call of Jesus is too challenging, or too demanding and painful, then let us remember that the apostles that Jesus chose to spread the Good News to the entire Roman Empire were mere ordinary and uneducated fishermen. 

And if they were called, so too can we be “called” to serve God.  And if the Holy Spirit can empower them to proclaim the Good News fearlessly and with great fidelity, even to the point of dying for their faith, as martyrs, then that same Holy Spirit too can give you and I the strength, courage and wisdom to love and serve God more wholeheartedly in Christ-like Love and Ways. 

Randy, quoting Pope Benedict XVI said: If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful, and great. No! Only in this friendship with Christ are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed.”  When we give ourselves up, God lets Himself in.

A spiritual writer once said, “God is the reason why even in pain, I smile; in confusion, I understand; in betrayal, I trust; and in fear, I continue to fight.  So, whatever is going to happen is going to be good.  If we survive, good; if we don’t survive, good, because everything is in God’s hands and He will never harm us . . . He Loves us too much.  

Adapted from: www.integratedcatholiclife.org/2012/08/randy-hain-finding-strength-in-surrender
Adapted from: rashikajain.com; Osho
Adapted from: Hearts Burning; Homilies for Sundays of the Year, Cycle A,B,C, Nil Guillemette, St Pauls Pub; Philippines; 2006; pp. 223-224.

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

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