Nineveh was the oldest and most populous city of the ancient Assyrian Empire. Its ruins are located on the east bank of the Tigris River opposite the modern city of Mosul in Iraq. The Ninevites were a great empire known for their ruthlessness. They were the sworn enemies of the Jews. Each despised the other and yet Jonah, a Jew, was sent by God to them. The Ninevites were going to end the Israelite civilization in a few years but it was to them that God sent Jonah.
Jonah (Jonah 3:1-5, 10) definitely did not want to go to them but God made sure that he did in spite of Jonah’s efforts to avoid the task God to which God had called him. After the episode with the whale Jonah finally ended up on their shore. He went to them and they repented of their evil ways. They acted immediately on God’s word. Jonah was there only one day in what was to be a three day journey. That’s the key idea. On hearing God’s word proclaimed to them by Jonah they acted immediately and changed their ways.
St. Paul (1 Cor 7:29-31) proclaims a similar message:
I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out. From now on, let those having wives act as not having them, those weeping as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing ,those buying as not owning,those using the world as not using it fully. For the world in its present form is passing away.
Like Jonah we have a propensity to procrastinate, to put things off with the idea we will tend to them another day. We should, however, consider what that’s saying to God and what God feels about that.
The theme presents itself to us in today’s Gospel (Mark 1:14-20) account. Peter and Andrew were grown men who were in the fishing business. They experienced God’s call and immediately dropped everything, left their business, and followed Jesus. Jesus, today’s gospel account reports, walked a little farther and met James and his brother John who with their father Zebedee were likewise fishermen. At Jesus’ call they immediately dropped their nets, left their father Zebedee, and followed Him.
I want now to give some attention to the young men and women who are here with us today. Could you, in a less dramatic way, be experiencing a similar call from God? Could you respond as those first disciples did? A vocation is a call from God. In one way or another we all, each one of us here, have a vocation. But what about the Jonahs among us? It’s very likely that some young men or women are feeling God’s call inviting them to go out into our modern day world, a world much like Nineveh’s, with His message… a challenging call indeed. It’s sort of like being called to be one of God’s Marines.
I know there are those of you young men who may be hearing God’s call to serve Him as a priest. Some of you young women may be experiencing similar thoughts about being a sister in a religious order or in some form of a dedicated life in the Church. There are young men and women who are hearing God’s invitation to serve Him in a special way. You may be still in school or you may already have a professional career. God’s call is not limited. Men and women already working in a profession or a business may very well be hearing God’s call to leave what they are doing and follow Jesus along a special path.
Often the media present young men and women as self-centered and pleasure seeking awash in sensual excesses. But we all know of young men and women in the military who are serving our country in very self-sacrificing ways. We have all seen accounts of young men and women on their spring breaks travelling great distances to build homes and in many other ways help folks who have suffered from poverty and other misfortunes.
There are seminaries and religious orders of women that are experiencing growth not only in numbers but in the quality of young people who are joining them.
All that being said, our Faith tells us that by our baptism we are all baptized into the Priesthood of Jesus Christ. In the Sacrament of Confirmation we have all been anointed by the Holy Spirit to bring Christ into our lives and into the world that, like Nineveh, surrounds us. Our Church teaches that we are all baptized into the Priesthood of the Faithful and that by being members of what St. Paul calls “the Mystical Body of Christ” we bring His Priesthood into the world around us. We can all be heartened by the fact that many young men and women have come to realize that offer and are responding to God’s call to them.
Those are not just pretty words. Those are challenging words, just as challenging as those directed to Jonah. Bring a priest is not easy. Bringing Christ’s message to those around us is not easy. We prefer set that task aside.
God isn’t giving us another program; He isn’t giving us a “how-to manual” or some agency to which we can refer people. No. God is calling us to bring His presence to individuals, something that we can only do individually… personally.
It is my belief that society has no problems that cannot ultimately be traced back to the individuals who make it up. I believe that because that’s the way Jesus saw it. That is the way, and the truth, and the life He challenges us to live in so that we can change the world around us.
When I start seeing the problems that exist in others then I begin to see myself. I keep running into myself when I run into the sins, faults, and failures I see in others. We live in profound connectedness and in radical complicity with each other. The theological analysis of this reality begins with the doctrine of original sin, that statement of reality that puts us radically at the root cause and source of our world’s miseries.
Jesus cries out to us and tells us that a better world is within our reach; it’s within our grasp. “The reign of God is at hand,” He tells us. A better world begins when we begin to change our own personal life. “Reform your lives,” He tells us, “and believe in the Good News.”
Taking life by the yard is hard, but life taken by the inch is a cinch. Take life as it comes to us one day at a time. Expect perfect happiness in the next life only after being reasonably happy in this life. That is the only way to deal with reality.
And so, if we want to change the world, are we willing first of all to change our own selves? How can I have the energy to change the huge systems surround us unless I at least have the energy to change myself?
The call of Jesus to twelve individuals, the call we just heard about in today Gospel account, is not a call issued only to twelve Jewish men over 2,000 years ago. It is an insistent call, and urgent call, a demanding call that comes down to us through 2,000 years in this Church of ours to you, to you here and now, to you today, who have been called by God to receive the Bread of Life from this altar and then to leave this church building on a mission. We are to leave here as those who are sent, sent with the twelve apostles to change the world by first changing our own lives.
For the simple truth is that when you do in fact change your life, you will have begun to change the whole world. What are you seeking? What is God whispering to you deep down within you? To what and to who do you want to give your life?