1 Corinthians 7:29-31
John, the Baptist’ ministry seemed to be focused on inviting people to experience God’s forgiveness and mercy for them. No matter where they have been, they were still welcome. The Israelites had to cross Jordan to enter into the Promised Land. Inviting people into the waters of Jordan to be cleansed of their sins, John was offering them the Promised Land – New Life with God.
Jesus picks up from where John left. Like John, He too invites people to ‘Repent and believe’ – but in a different way. He is offering his very own self. He is inviting people to share in his life…that they may have life! Embedded in this Call, of course, is the pre-requisite of a ‘metanoia‘ – a change of heart, a change of direction and priorities in life. It is not merely saying, "I am sorry," but also promising, "I will change my life." Simon, Andrew, James and John in the Gospel today respond to this call. However, it will take them and the rest of the Apostles a while to really understand and follow that call. Between now and then, they will go through various challenges in responding to the invitation that Jesus offers them.
The Book of Jonah was written around the 5th century B.C. after the Babylonian exile. Some of the Jews were quite nationalistic, filled with a smug sense of their superiority over all other nations. Like Jonah, they wished God would destroy the nations they perceived as His enemies. For Jonah, the Ninevites were terrible people doing terrible things. He would literally flee when God calls him to go preach repentance to these people. He hesitantly obeyed after being delivered by sea mail back to Nineveh – and he was disappointed seeing the ready response of that evil city to God’s message of repentance and a change of life! Jonah had not even finished the first day of his preaching journey before the people had totally turned around- doing visible penance while asking and hoping for God’s love, reconciliation and forgiveness. Contrary to Jonah’s expectations, the pagan peoples of the city "believed in God" and "renounced their evil behavior". But perhaps the greater change, the more radical turnabout, happened in Jonah himself. Jonah had been an arrogant, narrow-minded prophet. But he finally realized that God’s love is not limited – God’s forgiveness is not to be contained – God’s offer of salvation is for all – and we’d best not thwart it.
In many ways, probably, the story of Jonah and the apostles is our story too. We struggle with our call, which we got through our Baptism, as we move along our journey of faith. There are times when we don’t understand. But God comes back to us in the most unexpected ways; He uses us for others in the most unexpected ways. What God needs is not our ability, but our availability. What Jesus teaches His disciples is not a course of study, but a way of life to follow. He doesn’t call the qualified; He calls and then qualifies.
Fr. Bruno D’Souza, CP, is on the staff at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.