Today’s readings call us to repentance.
In the first reading from the book of Jonah, the word of the Lord God sends Jonah to Nineveh. There, he is to go warn the people that God would destroy the city if they do not change their ways. We are told that he took 3 days to do this and that in forty days if they did not heed the warning, Nineveh would be destroyed.
In the Bible, numbers do not necessarily represent numerical value in the mathematical sense. They are part of a symbolic system called the gematria. Each number represents something. The number 3 represents totality or completeness. It is used over 400 times throughout the Sacred Scriptures. The forty days means a long period or a period of preparation or transition. Nineveh was a city that had it all in regards to sin. We read more details in Nahum 3.
In this city, thievery is rampant, sexual licentiousness, drunkenness, death, merciless killing etc etc. Notice how God gives a warning before He acts. He sends out Jonah to warn the people. Atheists often like to make claims that the “Old Testament God” is this evil deity who is sadistic and enjoys killing or having others kill in His name. This is far from the truth and a poor understanding of literary genres in Sacred Scripture. If God was this “evil deity” that did not care, why would He send out Jonah to warn the residents of Nineveh? Here we see that God is not only just, but merciful (Psalm 86:5, Psalm 145:9, Ephesians 2:4). He prefers all be saved than destroyed just like any responsible father would not sit back and let his kids do whatever they want. A father sets rules and enforces them justly. This is love.
The responsorial Psalm responds to the first reading with the statement: “Teach me your ways, O Lord.” What does this mean? Well once we repent of our sins and commit to change, then we must learn how to do so. Simply repenting is not going to show us how to continue on the path to holiness. Only God can teach us this since He is perfection (2 Samuel 22:31, Psalm 18:30, Matthew 5:48).
In the second reading, we are reminded that time is running out. We are told by St. Paul to behave as such we are not living our daily lives on Earth. In other words, we must not focus too much on the things of this world, for they will pass. Our world will pass. Science even agrees with this statement. However, this does not mean all life will disappear with it, nor are some going to go floating in the air in some “rapture.” Rather, God will return like a “thief in the night” and will judge us all (1 Thessalonians 5:2). We will be judged based on how we loved God and others (Matthew 7:2). This means we are to love God above things and our neighbor as ourselves (Luke 10:27). We must not love God only on Sundays and Holy Days, but all the time. This applies to our neighbors as well. We must not love them only during Mass, but all the time; yes, including those who get on our nerves (Matthew 5:44). We must teach our neighbors the truth and not water it down because it may offend their sensibilities (John 17:17). It would be a sin against charity to lead others to believe that abortion is moral, that same sex unions is love and valid, that contraception is ethical, or that we should mind our own business and not admonish the sinner so as not to offend them.
Finally in the Gospel, we learn of John’s arrest. The last prophet is arrested and will be beheaded.
Jesus continues after Him by preaching the Gospel of God. He reminds the people then and now that “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” Like in the first reading, He warns the people which is what John also did.
However, Jesus continues from that warning into the actual teaching of the Gospel in order to teach the people the way of the Lord as the responsorial Psalm states. Then He proceeds to call the other disciples by name, Simon, Andrew, James and John. He uses an interesting phrase, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Notice how Jesus is very observant. He sees that these men are fishermen. Today, the Pope wears the “fisherman’s ring” as a reminder that He must go out into the deep and fish men.
Furthermore, Jesus then uses that fact to connect the work of God with. He also calls each by name which shows that He focuses on individuals. We are not in some cosmic college class where God is a professor who does not know the names of His students. He engages us directly on a first name bases because He knows us ever since we were forming in our mother’s womb (Jeremiah 1:5). God does the same today. We do not have to be fishermen to do God’s work. A doctor, nurse, lawyer, teacher, police officer, fireman, politician, scientist, librarian, school crossing guard, home maker, businessman etc; are all called to bring people into the Church using their own talents which will be guided by God’s grace (Psalm 48:14). Never feel as if you cannot do God’s work on Earth.
St. Therese of Lisieux reminds us, “Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.” God in many cases does the opposite of what we expect an omnipotent being to do by choosing those who are weak, uneducated or outcasts to shame the arrogant and those who see themselves as strong or powerful (1 Corinthians 1:27). Let us listen to God’s call to repent, ask him to teach us how to live and go do what He asks of us with faith, love and hope.