The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

First Reading Jonah 3:1-5,10
Second Reading 1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Gospel Mark 1:14-20

“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

Consider this thought experiment. Three men are standing side-by-side. The one in the center is a married Catholic layman. The one to the right is a Catholic priest. The one to the left is a married man who doesn’t believe in God. The $64,000 question is: which two men are more alike?

If you tried to answer that question by watching their every move for a week (let’s imagine you had DVD’s of their lives, like a reality show), you might conclude that the two married men have the most in common. After all, when each of these husbands returns home from work, he gives his wife a kiss. Each of them shares with his wife the chores of their home, and each of them shares the responsibilities of rearing their children.

However, granting all these similarities, there’s still an argument to be made that the priest and Catholic married man have the most in common. Although the actions that the two husbands carry out look the same, beneath the surface of each human action—in the human heart, mind, and soul—lies the human motive.

In ethics, the word “motive” refers to motion, just as it implies in the word “automotive”. The human motive is what gets the ball rolling. It moves the abstract idea out of the human mind and into the world through the work of the will. So ultimately, the motive that brings about a particular action has more significance than the appearance of that action. Both are important, but the motive is primary. This is why the priest and the Catholic married man have the potential to be more alike than the two husbands.

Put it this way: because of his Baptism, the Catholic person’s motive can be—if he allows it—elevated by grace. The Catholic person can search for his motive in the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, while the motive of the atheist, when he does good, is still connected to God at least by virtue of his human nature, he doesn’t recognize it as such. He bears limited fruit.

But the person who wants his will to cooperate with the Holy Spirit can bear limitless fruit. He may appear to do the same actions as an unbeliever, but the love he is receiving from God and the love he has for God in his heart are the driving force behind these actions, and so they benefit not only his soul but the souls of the entire Body of Christ. Not only this, but eventually even the appearance of his actions will change and reveal more clearly the work of the Holy Spirit. The motive of love will become more obvious because the limitless nature of the love of God will reveal itself visibly in his actions. He might start attending daily Mass, or decide to take his family on a mission trip, or perhaps start sharing about his faith at his place of work.

God told Jonah, in our First Reading, to “set out for the great city of Ninevah, and announce to it the message that I will tell you.” He walked through this “enormously large city”, announcing to them that it would be destroyed in forty days. We know his motives were pure, because to outward appearances, this would seem crazy. In the Gospel passage, Jesus called the fishermen Simon, Andrew, James, and John: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They left everything—boats, nets, fish, family—and followed Him immediately. Again, this would not seem to a worldly man to be a well thought out, sane action. But consider what motivated them. God in the souls of Jonah and the first apostles moved them to action.

It’s within Jesus—that is, within His Mystical Body—that the Holy Spirit most powerfully works in the world. Within the Church the Holy Spirit calls and empowers us who are members of this Body. Through the Church we know that the Psalmist’s call will be fulfilled when we ourselves sing, “Teach me your ways, O Lord.” Through the Church the Holy Spirit will enlighten and inspire each of us who is willing to allow God to motivate us for the sake of accomplishing His divine will.