Do Not Conform Yourself to This Age—Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle B)

Jonah 3:1–5, 10; 1 Cor. 7:29–31; Mark 1:14–20

Do not conform yourselves to this age.

This statement from Paul from the letter to the Romans was not in our readings this week, but it is a perfect synopsis of the teaching we take from the reading. Set aside the things of this world, because it is impermanent and because God’s will for our future is more important—of dire importance for us.

It is easy to let the cares of life overwhelm us and take center stage. And our culture has a tendency to reinforce those pressures, to seek what is easy and comfortable.

When that house in that great location comes on the market, it can be easy to capitulate and tell yourself that you need the extra space and the additional garage.

But it goes beyond our material wants. It affects the way we view commitment. Our word is only good as  long as we get what we want, so we forsake our commitments and covenants as easily as changing our socks. Marriage becomes a matter of satisfying personal fulfillment rather than a foundation of civilization. But our age tells us that it’s all about us. It’s about my happiness, my self-fulfillment, my soul mate—not about my commitment and consent in front of God.

Do not conform yourselves to this age.

This week was the 42 anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision, a decision that has resulted in the deaths of 50 million unborn in the US. 1.2 billion have been aborted worldwide in the last 50 years. Let that figure settle in: 1.2 billion worldwide. That equals the current total Catholic population in the world. But that is the pattern of our age. Pregnancy is considered inconvenient. It is no longer considered a blessing in our culture unless you intend to have children for your own self-fulfillment. That is the pattern of our age—to seek our own will.

In all of the noise that goes on in our brains about what we want rather than need, it’s easy to drown out the voice of God calling us to something better.

Well, sometimes God gives us those in-your-face reminders. Jonah was one of those reminders. He walked across Nineveh and told the Ninevites what to expect in 40 days. The Ninevites were pagans, just going about doing their worldly pagan things, but here comes this Israelite Prophet proclaiming doom from a god they didn’t even know. And the people of Nineveh did something few in our modern world would today: they took Jonah at his word. They accepted that he was a prophet. Why? Probably because he was telling them something they did not want to hear but that spoke to their consciences. And they responded. They called a fast and put on sackcloth and ashes—a traditional sign of penance. Part of the passage is missing here that I find rather amusing. Even the cattle and the donkeys wore sackcloth and fasted. Now, please don’t take that as an invitation to bring your pets to the Ash Wednesday service, but you have to admit it’s quite a statement about Nineveh’s penitential spirit.

Why were they moved? Because God made His will known to them, and they heard Him. They were willing to recognize their failure, and they repented.

In first Corinthians, Paul essentially orders the people to turn 180 degrees—to do exactly the opposite of what they’ve been doing. If they weep, act as if not weeping. If they rejoice, act as if not rejoicing. It seems like a rather bizarre command. But his point is that the people of Corinth have not changed. They have not been converted. They are still living as Pagans even though they have been baptized and are part of the Church. He is telling them that the time is short. Your faith requires a commitment. Do not go on living as you have. Turn around and shape up because the Lord is coming. The world in its present form is passing away. We must always remember that what happens here is impermanent. Do not conform yourselves to this age, because all of this will pass away.

Last week’s reading reveals to us that James, John, Andrew and Peter are followers of Jesus. This reading today shows a unique call given to them to become “fishers of men.”

This Gospel reading really is the motivation for why we need to stop conforming ourselves to this age. James, John, Andrew, and Peter have already come to know Jesus, and now Jesus comes to demand something of them. In Mark, all we see is this command given to a bunch of fishermen: come and I will make you “fishers of men.” This is a great play on words in English.

What Mark is trying to convey in his gospel is the immediacy of Christ’s call to us. He doesn’t just call and say, “Hey, drop by for a chat once a week or so” or “Call me when you’re in town.” He calls us to leave everything behind and follow Him—to let go of our obligation, our ambitions, our material wants and to follow Him. He has a mission for us, and we have to be ready to embrace it. Right now.

No finishing the work day. No waiting until after you’ve paid off the mortgage. No waiting until the kids are finished with college. Right now.

And that is a challenging message for us. We are so often driven, not by what God wants for us, but by what our culture says is really important: material wealth, professional success, fame.

Paul is telling us to set all of that aside, and Mark shows us why. Because if we are too attached to the things of this world, if we cling to our material success, if we are driven by the feelings we have in a particular moment rather than by what God wills for us, we will miss our call. We will miss Jesus’ invitation.

We will miss our mission and lose our salvation.

So do not conform yourselves to this age when it tells you that you need that new Mercedes.

Do not conform yourselves to this age when it tells you that marriage is a temporary commitment that you can toss aside when it becomes burdensome.

Do not conform yourselves to this age when it tells you that an unborn life is an inconvenience and that sex is really just about your personal satisfaction.

Conform yourself instead to the will of Christ. Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all you truly need will be given to you.


About dcnbillburns

I am a deacon for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boise.
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