The readings that we hear every Sunday at Mass come from the Bible, obviously, but they are arranged in a book called a lectionary - a book of Bible readings set up for every day of the year, with all the seasons and feast days that we celebrate.
It's all set up around a three-year cycle - so if you went to Mass everyday for three years, you would hear most of the Bible (and they say Catholics don't read the Bible!).
This year, we are in the second cycle of the lectionary, Year B, and in this year, we focus on the Gospel of Mark. Mark is the shortest of the Gospels - it only has 16 chapters (so it might be a good place to start reading, if you want to get into the Bible), but in that short space, we feel an incredible sense of urgency.
Mark tells the story of Jesus with action: Jesus does one thing, then immediately he goes and does something else. He's healing people, then he's casting out a demon, and, before you know it, it's over and Jesus has risen from the grave. Mark uses the Greek word for "immediately" 42 times!
That sense of urgency comes through in all of our readings today, but it's also an urgency for us - to repent and follow Jesus.
We start out with Jonah.
Many people know the story of Jonah and the giant fish that swallowed him when he ran away from the mission God gave him; but this reading is the more important part of the story.
Jonah was sent to Nineveh - a city that was a great enemy of Israel. Jonah, after his time in the fish, goes and announces that the city will be destroyed in 40 days. He doesn't offer any hope or a way out. What happens, though, is a surprise - they repent and turn to God, the true God. God does not destroy them.
Now, it's common, even for Christians, to see a huge divide between the loving God of the New Testament and the supposedly angry God of the Old Testament - a God who destroys people who disobey Him. But we should always remember: God has the right to destroy those who disobey Him. He made everything, including us, simply because He wanted to - out of love. He doesn't owe us anything.
However, God is merciful, even in the Old Testament. He sent Jonah to give the people of Nineveh a chance - even if his messenger didn't think there was a chance of success. They repented and turned back to God.
Jonah's words of warning, though, aren't the final word.
God sent the fullest message of His love and mercy in the person of Jesus - His ultimate Word. And Jesus' word isn't only one of warning - it's an invitation: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
It's still a message of repentance - telling us that our sins will destroy us - but it also shows what repentance leads to: not just survival, but being welcomed into the Kingdom of God. That is the Gospel, the good news.
God desires to save ALL of humanity and our cooperation with that desire starts with our repentance and following Jesus. In those first disciples, we see the urgency of the message: they drop everything and follow Jesus immediately.
There are two important lessons here:
First: nothing, nothing, that holds us back from following the Lord is worth keeping - no position, no relationship, no security - if it holds us back, we must drop it.
Second: The first disciples followed Jesus immediately and we should too.
There will always seem to be plenty of time - "I'll get serious about my faith someday when I really have the chance." That is a lie. The time is now. We don't know what time we have. As St. Paul says in the second reading, "I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out ... For the world in its present form is passing away."
Believe me, I know all about procrastination. I can't think of too many school papers from high school through seminary that I didn't start the night before. I don't encourage that. It leaves you tired, stressed, and angry. Putting off our faith - our relationship with God - has far more serious, eternal consequences.
Act now. Choose God now.
Get to confession and start praying.
The Kingdom of God is at hand for us.