by Fr. Tommy Lane
“Repent and believe in the Gospel.” (Mark 1:15) These words of Jesus describe our occupation every day. They tell us two things. The first is to repent, to turn away from sin. The second is what we are to turn towards, the Gospel, to make the Word of God the foundation of our lives. It is an embarrassment that despite years of professing our faith, studying our faith, and meeting the Lord in the Eucharist, we are still in need of further repentance, which is why we begin every celebration of the Eucharist with repentance. Of course, this is the result of original sin. It must be affecting each of us more than we care to think. We still need to repent and on those occasions when the light of God penetrates us and we see our need of repentance, that is a grace. Perhaps during the past few days you have heard on EWTN a number of stories of people who worked in the so-called abortion industry or who got abortions and eventually saw the gravity of the situation and turned to God. For some, the moment of conversion happened quickly but for others that moment of conversion was delayed by their own thinking. Even to be able to hear the message of Jesus to repent, depending on our situation, may take a long time. It is a little frightening but also humbling to think that each of us in our own way can have all sorts of resistance inside of us blocking the message of Jesus in all its fullness getting through to us.
The character of Jonah in our first reading (Jon 3:1-5, 10) looks like a model of obedience to God. In the account, sometimes described as something like a parable, he was asked by the Lord to go to Nineveh, almost six hundred miles east, to preach to those who were considered the enemies of Israel to ask them to repent so that they would not be destroyed. Jonah went and preached and the Ninevites heeded God’s message; they repented and were spared. It all looks wonderful. However, there is more to the story. What we heard today is the second time God called Jonah to preach to the Ninevites because the first time Jonah simply refused since he did not want Israel’s enemies to repent and be spared by God (Jon 1:1-2; 4:2). Instead of going six hundred miles east to do as the Lord asked, he went west in the opposite direction in a ship. Jonah also needed to repent, to do what the Lord wanted and not what Jonah himself wanted. The Ninevites did evil before their repentance (Jon 3:8, 10) but in the Hebrew, which does not appear in English translations, there is a play on words and the word “evil” (רָעָה) is used to describe Jonah (Heb 4:1) and his actions have evil consequences (Jon 1:7-8)! Jonah too had to repent of evil. And it was much more difficult to get Jonah to repent than to get the Ninevites to repent. There had to be a big storm at sea, Jonah had to be thrown out of the ship to calm the storm, and then swallowed by a whale and then Jonah gave the poor whale such a bad dose of gastritis that the poor thing had to throw up Jonah again! Getting Jonah to repent was big drama! Again it is a little frightening but also humbling to think that each of us in our own way can have some of Jonah’s resistance inside of us blocking the message of Jesus in all its fullness getting through to us. When the moment of grace happens allowing us to see ourselves in the light of Jesus, we see he is waiting for us to welcome us with the fullness of his love. We might have a problem forgiving ourselves but Jesus has no problem forgiving us! He is always ready to welcome us, always ready to forgive us, to love us. His mercy is scandalous! His mercy is scandalous because we find it difficult to understand how merciful and forgiving he is. It is we who have the problem forgiving ourselves, Jesus does not.
When we repent, we meet the mercy of Jesus and we know the Lord better. Chesterton (in The High Plains) wrote “a saint only means a man who really knows that he is a sinner.” When we have received the mercy of Jesus, we are to believe in the Gospel. We are to base our lives on the Gospel. The Word of God is to be the foundation of everything that we think and do and say. Our whole day it to be centered on Jesus and his Gospel and living his Gospel. The Greek word for repentance, metanoia, does not just refer to a one-time act of turning back but rather to a practice, that affects our entire life. Living this way, we discover that we are happier, that it is the way we were meant to live, and that it is the best way to live. So we discover that repentance is good for us, good for us in every way. So we could say, “If you want to be happy, repent!” The people of Nineveh avoided destruction when they repented. Jonah was not happy before he repented; there was a storm (climate change!), Jonah was gobbled by a whale, and Jonah himself was just a big stomach ache! But after he repented life was so much better for him and for the Ninevites.
Peter, Andrew, James and John underwent some kind of repentance or conversion experience when they left their fishing business to follow Jesus. Difficulties did await them but also unimaginable graces. They could never have imagined on the day they answered their call witnessing the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fish, three of them would see Jesus transfigured, they would all see Jesus risen from the dead, experience Pentecost and be fishers of men instead of fishers of fish. Every time we convert, the new life with Jesus awaits us. “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” (Mark 1:15)
© Fr. Tommy Lane 2018
More Homilies for the Third Sunday Year B
Related Homilies: Homilies on Vocation
on the call to repent see God Continues to Call Us to Bear Fruit