Sunday, January 21, 2024

Seasoned By The Sauce

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

(Sunday of the Word of God)

Readings: Jonah 3: 1-5, 10; Psalm 24 (25): 4-6, 7b-9; 1 Corinthians 7: 29-31; Mark 1: 14-20

Picture: By GoodEats YQR on Unsplash

My dear friends, what does soy sauce do? As you know, it’s a powerful seasoning. Many of us use it as a condiment. We add it to soup, or dip our pork ribs in it, before eating. Used in this way, it gives flavour instantly. And soy sauce can also act as a marinade. We soak meat in it before cooking. Letting it work more gradually and deeply. Allowing its flavour to infuse the meat, and transform it… The instant but more superficial workings of a condiment, as well as the gradual and more profound effects of a marinade. These are two qualities of the word of God found in our scriptures today.

When Jonah hears the word of the Lord, in the first reading, he obeys immediately. And when he conveys God’s word to the Ninevites, the effects are also instant. The whole city repents, even the animals. Similarly, in the gospel, when Jesus, the Word-of-God-Made-Flesh, calls his first disciples, they drop everything and follow him at once. How does this instant condiment-like effect of God’s word make us feel? Very likely, we’ve had similar experiences. Somehow we receive a clear sense of what God wants us to do, and the courage and energy to do it. But aren’t there also times when God seems silent and distant? Or when we may know what God wants, but are unable to comply. And our weakness makes us feel unworthy of God. We may stop praying, and even give up following the Lord.

Which is why it’s important to see that God’s word can work in another way. In the opening line of the first reading, there are actually three words missing: a second time. The word of the Lord was addressed to Jonah a second time. The first time Jonah heard God’s word, he responded by boarding a ship and running away (1:3). But God pursued him. He was thrown into the sea, and swallowed by a fish. And for three days and three nights, in the belly of the fish, Jonah prayed. He was marinated in the Word of God. Until God spoke to the fish, which then vomited Jonah onto dry land, finally ready to hear and obey (2:10). Similarly, when Jesus calls the four fishermen in the gospel, he promises that I will make you fishers of men. And Jesus spends the rest of the gospel doing this–including the three days between his Dying and Rising. Continually marinating them in the Lord’s own company. Gradually transforming them into true missionary disciples, ready and able to walk in their Master’s footsteps.

So we needn’t be discouraged, either by God’s apparent silence or our own stubborn resistance. We need instead to find ways to keep soaking ourselves in God’s word. To allow the flavours of God’s kingdom to infuse us, even and especially when we have to remain immersed in the affairs of this world, the present shape of which is passing away.

Sisters and brothers, if the word of God can really work like soy sauce, then beyond just occasionally dipping into it like a condiment, what can we do to allow it to marinate us more consistently and more completely, today and everyday?

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