In the Footsteps of St. Paul
3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Antonio P. Pueyo
Reproduced with Permission

This Sunday brings together so many themes. The Philippine Church celebrates Bible Sunday. It is also the commemoration of the 2000th Year of the birth of St. Paul. It is the third Sunday of the Ordinary time in the liturgical calendar with the readings focusing on the theme of conversion. Somehow, we can weave all these diverse threads by reflecting on the ministry of St. Paul, a convert and a great preacher of the Word.

Action starter: Share the good news, Tell the story of Jesus.

Why should anyone preach at all? I see two important reasons, first, because the Lord commanded it, and second, because something good ought to be shared. The first reading tells the adventures of Jonah. He was commanded by God to tell the people of Nineveh of its impending destruction, unless they repent and change their ways. Jonah was a reluctant prophet. He had to be literally carried to the shores of Nineveh in the belly of a whale. There may be times when we are reluctant prophets. We know the cost of telling the truth or standing up for what is right and good. It could cost us our popularity or at its worst, our life. But preach we must.

St. Paul’s story was a different one. His conversion was dramatic. He had to fall from his horse on the way to Damascus in order to see the light. After that, St. Paul would rightly says, “love urges us.” It is love for Christ that drove St. Paul to travel all over the Graeco-Roman territories. Even in this age of jet travel, following in the footsteps of St. Paul would need endurance. St. Paul experienced the unmerited love of God in Jesus. He could not keep such experience to himself. He had to share it to others. As one Fililipino saying says, “kapag narinig mo ang magandang balita, tiyak na kakati ang iyong dila.” When one hears good news, the tongue itches. The reason for St. Paul’ sense of urgency is seen in the reading this Sunday, “for the form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:21). Believing that the “parousia” was imminent, he had to preach and tell everyone about Jesus to make people ready to welcome Him at his second coming.

The Gospel tells the beginning of the preaching of the Lord (Mk. 1:14). He called his first apostles from among fishermen and challenged them to fish for men. (v. 17). At the core of the preaching of Jesus is the message about the kingdom of God. To the ears of his hearers it could mean many things, ranging from a political restoration of the glory days of Israel, to economic abundance, to moral and spiritual conversion by obedience to the laws of God. In answer to this varied expectations, Jesus summarized his mission as that of giving life (Jn. 10:10), his method as one of gathering a group of disciples and forming them into a caring and serving community, his ethics as that loving God and neighbor, his initiation into the kingdom through metanoia – a complete turn-around of mind, heart, will, and lifestyle.

St. Paul would follow the same steps. He underwent conversion and baptism. He acknowledged the community of believers under the leadership of Peter. He traveled from place to place and made friends with people as he invited them to join the same community of believers. He demanded behaviors that are in consonance with being a friend of God and a follower of Jesus. He shepherded and formed his disciples to become missionaries themselves. He encouraged, scolded, appealed, and did whatever was necessary to maintain their focus on the finish line and the crown of glory – being with Jesus in His kingdom. He was unflagging and untiring. He bore his troubles and gloried in them, buoyed by the conviction that nothing can separate him from the love of God.

As we celebrate Bible Sunday and honor St. Paul, may we gain courage and inspiration from this Man of the Year, St. Paul the Apostle.