How to Serve Like a True Disciple

User’s Guide to the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Like Mary, may we have a free heart — a joyful heart.
Like Mary, may we have a free heart — a joyful heart. (photo: Unsplash)

Sunday, Jan. 21, is the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mass readings: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20.

The readings of today’s Mass focus on the call to discipleship and the living of the Christian faith. They present us with a number of disciplines for disciples. Let’s consider three areas of discipline as reflected in the readings.

The first reading today covers the ministry of the reluctant prophet, Jonah. In today’s reading, we hear only the end of the story, but as most of us know, Jonah was not merely reluctant in accepting his mission as a prophet, he was downright defiant. Recall that “Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish” (1:1-3). As Jonah runs away from God, great storms arise at sea. The storms of defiance rage, but Jonah sleeps — and the storms affect not only him but those who sail with him as well. Yes, our moral decisions do affect others around us. Cast overboard, Jonah is swallowed by the great fish and is brought back to the very place (Joppa) where he sailed away from God. In effect, God says, “Let’s try this all over again.” So Jonah makes ready and goes to Nineveh, according to the Lord’s bidding. Yes, Jonah was smart this time. The point is that disciples (and we) must learn to be undefiant and learn that obedience to God’s will is always easier than disobedience.

To be unfettered means to be unchained, unshackled, and free to move about. The second reading today presents a vivid and sober portrait of what being unfettered and detached looks like: “I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out. From now on, let those having wives act as not having them, those weeping as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing, those buying as not owning, those using the world as not using it fully. For the world in its present form is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:29).

This passage does not mean that we have no recourse at all to these worldly things and people, just that nothing in this passing world remains. Yet we are often chained and fettered by what is merely passing. Slowly, God breaks the shackles of this world and helps us lose their hold on us.

Consider that among Jesus’ first followers were several fishermen whom he calls in today’s Gospel.

Fishermen have some important qualities that are helpful for discipleship. Fishermen are patient, often waiting for many hours, even days, for a catch. Fishermen are professional, learning about the types of fish and their behaviors, learning navigation, learning the right time of day and the right season to fish. They know the right bait and the proper use of the net. Fishermen are also purposeful. When fishermen are out fishing, that’s all they do; everything is centered on the main task. Fishermen are pursuing. They go to the fish. The key word for disciples and evangelizers is “go.” Finally, fishermen are partnered; they work in teams. Jesus sends the disciples out, two by two.

So, in sum, to be undefiant, unfettered by this world and untiring is, ultimately, to have a free heart — a joyful heart.

It is a heart that ungrudgingly serves the Kingdom.