|Duccio - Calling the Disciples (c.1314)|
|The Prophet Jonah -- Tissot|
Mark’s account of this episode, which provides this week's Gospel, is rather briefer than the one given by Matthew, who links the Galilean context to the prophecies of Isaiah. The lectionary's choice of readings, however, establishes another important Biblical resonance that underlines the connection with John the Baptist -- the story of Jonah, who is sent to call Nineveh to repentance, and does so successfully.
Interspersed between the readings from Jonah and Mark, though, is one of those awkward passages that seem inextricably tied to a belief that the world will end very soon. Paul tells the Corinthians to abandon their normal way of life completely, even to the point of ignoring familial obligations to both the living and the dead. We know, of course, that ‘the appointed time’ had not ‘grown short’, since the world is still here almost two thousand years later. Paul’s apocalyptic tone, however, is not without purpose even yet. Repentance does require us to see our normal life in a quite different light, and to radically review our priorities. This implies a certain sort of detachment from the plans and projects in which we are engaged. Spiritual detachment may not arise, as it did for Paul, from a belief that time is running out, but in the absence of an attitude something like his, discipleship loses its spiritual edge and is at risk of degenerating into conventional piety. Religious observance becomes a matter of going through familiar motions as nothing more than an ordinary part of ordinary life. Among the early Christians, a lively belief in the immanence of the Second Coming served as a powerful antidote to spiritual laziness, and the Epistle serves to remind us that this is the kind of antidote we still need.