Saturday, January 24, 2015

Attending to the Alarm

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Picture: cc Jean L.

Sisters and brothers, do you use an alarm clock? I think many of us do. And we know what we use it for. We know why we need it. We need it because we all have a tendency to lose track of time. And the alarm clock helps to remind us what time it is. When we are sleeping, for example, the alarm clock tells us when it is time to wake up. So that we won’t be late for work. Or school. But the alarm is only be effective if we obey it. If we ignore it. Or switch it off and go back to sleep. As sometimes happens to me. Then it will do us no good. We will oversleep. And have to pay the price for it.

But clocks are not the only kind of alarm. There are others. On an MRT train, for example, the announcements also act as a type of alarm. They remind us when it is time to get off. Also, someone recently gave me a small potted plant. Whenever I forget to water it, the leaves of the plant will start to droop. And that is a kind of alarm for me too. Reminding me that the poor plant is thirsty. That it is time to water it. Otherwise it will die.

And it’s not just plants that give off alarms. People do too, don’t they? When a baby cries, for example. It’s a reminder to the parents that it’s time to feed it. Or change it. Or let it go to sleep. And not just babies. Even adults give off alarms too. What does it mean, for example, when a wife starts nagging her husband even more than usual? Or when a husband starts spending more and more time away from home? Or when children suddenly start getting into trouble at school. All these things can be alarms as well. Signs to us that it is time to do something. Or to change whatever it is we have been doing. But, like the alarm clock, these signs will only be effective if we pay attention to them. If we do not ignore them. Otherwise we will continue to lose track of time. And have to pay the price for it.

I mention all this because, in each of our Mass readings today, we also find alarms ringing. In the first reading, God first sounds an alarm in the ear of the prophet Jonah. Telling him that it is time for him to go to the great city of Nineveh to proclaim the word of God. After some resistance, Jonah obeys. He goes to Nineveh and proclaims a message that is itself also an alarm. An urgent reminder to the Ninevites of what time it is. Only forty days more and Nineveh is going to be destroyed. The Ninevites’ own evil behaviour is like a train carrying them to destruction. Jonah reminds them that it is now time for them to get off this train. To turn back to God. Otherwise they will miss the chance to experience God’s mercy. Thankfully, the Ninevites are willing to obey God’s call. They pay close attention to the alarm. They repent. And the city is saved from destruction.

In the gospel, too, we find alarms sounding. John the Baptist gets arrested. And Jesus treats John’s arrest as an alarm. A sign that it is now time for Jesus to begin his public ministry. To start proclaiming the word of God in Galilee. And Jesus obeys. Like Jonah before him, Jesus himself also sounds an alarm. The time has come, he says, and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.

But Jesus’ alarm is not just a call to repentance. Not just a reminder to turn away from everything that displeases God. It is also a call to discipleship. An invitation to the people to turn towards Jesus himself. To follow him. To live in the same way that he lives. To value the same things that he values. To put God at the centre of their hearts. To give God the highest priority in their lives. And when they do this, then the people will become fishers of people. Like Jesus, they themselves will become alarms ringing in the ears of others. Proclaiming to them the good news that the time has come for everyone to experience the mercy of God. For everyone to live in the joy of the Lord.

We find the same thing happening in the second reading. We all know the story of St. Paul. We know how, on the road to Damascus, like Jonah, Paul heard God’s alarm. How he repented. Turned his life around. Became not just a follower of Jesus, but also a fisher of people. How he himself became an alarm, reminding everyone what time it is. And this is exactly what Paul is doing in the second reading.

He sounds the alarm for the Corinthians. He reminds them that our time is growing short. That the world as we know it is passing away. The world that revolves around the hunger for fame and fortune. And the thirst for power and pleasure. The world that busies itself with buying and selling. With eating and shopping. With fighting and competing. The time is coming when this world will be no more. What to do then?

For Paul, the answer is simple. What we have to do is to live as though we were already part of another world. A different world. A world that revolves not around ourselves and our own cravings. But around God and God’s priorities. Around God’s love and God’s mercy. A world that is built not on the pleasures that pass too quickly away. Pleasures that we cannot bring along with us when we die. But a world that is built on the joy that will never end. The joy that comes from knowing the love of God shown to us in Christ Jesus our Lord. The same love that we are gathered here, around this altar, to experience and to celebrate.

Sisters and brothers, the alarms that we find in our readings do not ring only for the people who lived a very long time ago. These alarms continue to ring out loudly for us today. For like the Ninevites of Jonah’s day. Like the Galileans of Jesus’ day. And like the Corinthians of Paul’s day. We too live in a world that revolves around things that will very quickly pass away. Things that may make us feel good for a while. But are unable to bring us lasting joy. Things that separate us from God and from one another. Things that we fight each other for. Sometimes even kill one another for. But how many of us are able to remember this? How many of us are able to resist the temptation to live as though this is the only world that we have?

If we do find ourselves in such a situation of forgetfulness. Of losing track of time. Then our readings can help us. They act as an important alarm for us. Reminding us that there is another better way to live. Another better world to live for. A world that Jesus came to proclaim. Through his Life, and Death, and Resurrection. The same world for which he taught us to pray. In the Our Father. Whenever we say, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Sisters and brothers, the time has already come. This is what we believe. The time has already come, for us to live no longer according to the values of this world. But according to the values of another world. A new world. God’s world. A world of love and mercy. A world of justice and peace. The time has already come. The alarm is already sounding. Loudly and clearly. What must we do, you and I, to obey its call today?


  1. This article about the alarm clock, reminds me of my uncle Nicolae who was praying to his guardian angel, to wake him up, at a time when alarm clocks were a rarity. ..

  2. Actually every single human being is born with an inner alarm clock : the conscience.
    It is this little voice telling us that what we are about to do or have done is not so god , or was even bad or worse still, evil . It has been given to us , Christians and non-Christians alike ,to prevent us from doing evil, or, to say it it in a more positive way, to help us do the right thing.
    In the O T God sent prophets to remind His people when they had gone wandering off the right path as we hear in the first reading.

    Not only this: He sent His Only Son, Jesus , out of love for His creation to bring us His message of love , to keep us on the right track.. He sacrified His Son so that we might be saved and reconciled.
    But we are weak and forgetful, and we fall back again and again into our sinful ways.
    Many times we, I, prefer not to listen to that little voice until it becomes weaker and weaker..
    So it is fortunate for us that we get reminders or wake-up calls in form of the scriptures which are read and interpreted during every mass.
    Thus , we and the little voice in us stay awake , and we won't forget that the world as we know it is only temporary. And so can prepare for the world to come ; And we do not only mouth the words "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done..." but try to live accordingly.
    Thank you, Fr.Chris, for your homilies. They are wake-up calls and make me think and reflect....

  3. O Lord,

    Teach me to heed Your wake up calls and to respond with urgency to the alarms which You set within me.

    Let me always remain docile to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

    Seeing Is Believing
    28 January 2015


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