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Spirituality of the Readings
3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Year B
January 24, 2021
John Foley, SJ

In our readings this Sunday, certain people get a direct invitation to do God’s will.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful for you and me if we had such a straight invitation? Instead of going about in a fog and trying our best to remember how to live, maybe how to pray once in a while, and to get to Mass on Sunday when possible, wouldn’t it be great to be caught up by a command that focused everything in our lives, drew us on like a far–shining star?


We all already have prejudices in place about what we want and how things ought to go.

But in the First Reading Jonah was quite repelled by the call God gave him. And in the Gospel the disciples surely had no idea what they were getting themselves into when they dropped everything and followed Jesus. Would they have been so trusting if they had known about the crucifixion?

God says to Jonah, “Set out for the great city of Nineveh, and preach against it; their wickedness has come up before me” (First Reading). Jonah, like a house cat, does exactly the opposite of what he is asked. He drops everything and runs in the opposite direction. He goes to the town of Joppa, finds a ship to Tarshish and gets on board, trying get as far from the task as possible.

Maybe you know the famous story. A terrible storm arises. Fleeing the command of God, Jonah tells the sailors to throw him overboard in order to save themselves—since by sea–superstition he is the cause of their trouble. So they toss him over the side and the sea quiets down.

Jonah is swallowed by a “large fish,” usually referred to in tradition as a whale. Residence in a whale’s interior gives Jonah ample time for thought. God does save him and tells him a second time to go to the great and sinful city of Nineveh to announce the Lord’s message. Jonah submits at last and the whole city is converted.

Why in the world didn’t Jonah just follow God’s command instead of running the other way? Because he already had his own prejudice in place. Jonah did not want the pagan city, Nineveh, to convert and be saved because this city was an enemy of the Hebrews. Better for it to perish in flames than to repent in ashes and sackcloth?

As for the apostles, they decided to follow Jesus for their own understandable but perhaps skewed reasons (Gospel). Issues of livelihood and the excessive tax system surely helped prompt them to follow this charismatic man whose reputation had preceded him. Were they following their noses to some kind of political action?

In any case, these are direct invitations from God. Are we kidding ourselves that our life and following our call will be placid, satisfying, and without ambiguity?

We all already have prejudices in place about what we want and how things ought to go. In fact, any of us who pray occasionally actually might find ourselves asking God to do our will, rather than the opposite.

Let’s grow, just like Jonah and the apostles did. Let’s listen in quiet, and then, by following, come to learn what we have heard.

John Foley, SJ

Father Foley can be reached at:
Fr. John Foley, SJ

Fr. John Foley, SJ, is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.

Art by Martin (Steve) Erspamer, OSB
from Religious Clip Art for the Liturgical Year (A, B, and C). This art may be reproduced only by parishes who purchase the collection in book or CD-ROM form. For more information go