First Reading Jonah 3:1–5, 10
Psalm Psalm 25:4–9
Second Reading 1 Corinthians 7:29–31
Gospel Mark 1:14–20
Gospel – Mark 1:14–20
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
Hearing the Word
“Change of Heart”
Today’s readings issue a call to repent and undergo a change of heart. This change begins with attentive listening to the voice of God and responding to it through a change of lifefocus.
The first reading comes from the story of the prophet Jonah whom God summoned to deliver a call to repentance to the inhabitants of Nineveh. This great ancient city was the capital of the empire of Assyria, a mortal enemy of Israel. But Jonah was a reluctant prophet. He initially refused to carry out his mission to the people he likely despised. His flight from God manifests his disobedience and resulted in the great drama of an encounter with the whale. Perhaps Jonah was afraid that if the people of Nineveh repented, God, in his mercy and compassion, would forgive the Assyrians’ evils and relent on his plan to destroy the city. Such deliverance was possibly the last thing this Israelite prophet wanted to have a hand in. In the end, Jonah was forced to accept that the Lord willed to grant the Ninevites a final opportunity to repent. Willingly or not, the Israelite prophet delivered a call for repentance, to his people’s traditional enemies just as he was commissioned to do.
Jonah’s message to the Ninevites contains merely five words in the original Hebrew: “forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” In the Bible, “forty days” is a symbolic number, which symbolizes a time intended for transformation and a change of heart. Through the prophecy of Jonah, Nineveh receives a message of impending condemnation and doom, unless they change. To Jonah’s surprise, his message was understood and provoked a radical and decisive response as the people of the city “believed God; … proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth”. With the minimum of effort – one day preaching and just five words – Jonah enjoyed an unprecedented and overwhelming success, perhaps greater than that of any other prophet in Israel’s history.
However, it was not only the people of Nineveh who repented. Jonah was the first to undergo a change of heart in this story, as he had to stop running from God, to literally “turn around”, before he could invite and challenge the Ninevites to renounce their evils and turn to God. The story also shows that when the people repented from their evil, God too repented of the condemnation that he intended for them. The episode underlines the fact that no person, place or situation is beyond God’s mercy and compassion when they are ready to listen to God and have a change of heart and life.
In the second reading, writing to the Corinthian Christians, Paul the apostle emphasized the urgency of repentance stating that “the appointed time has grown short” (1 Cor 7:29). One of the many issues Paul dealt with in his letter was related to the question of marriage and celibacy. Some Corinthians apparently devalued the institution of marriage and, imitating Paul’s lifestyle, thought of celibacy as a superior way of living out their faith. Though Paul affirms that practicing celibacy has its own value, he affirmed that both marriage and celibacy are charisms, that is gifts from God given to the faithful (see 1 Cor 7:7). Therefore, each believer should choose their state of life according to the charism granted him or her.
Keeping in mind the imminent coming of the Lord, Paul also urged Corinthians to adopt a new attitude towards God, others, and the world in general. Thus, believers should not be preoccupied with the concerns of the present and worldly life. Rather they should devote their gifts, time, and energy to serve the Lord and one another in the community. This required a change of heart in turning from selfish pursuits focused on this world because, according to Paul, this world and its glory passes away. Given the provisional and temporary shape of earthly life, Paul invites the Corinthians to apply their charism to the pursuit of that which serves God’s purposes, and, therefore, has a lasting value. Such a change of perspective on the current life requires a change of heart, and repentance from absorption by current, earthly affairs.
The Gospel reading summarizes the events that mark the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus. He came “proclaiming the good news of God” which indicates that Jesus, unlike Jonah, has accepted his mission to the world from the onset. Thus, he summoned the people to conversion, “to repent and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15). Faith and repentance imply a profound change of life’s orientation and constitute the only appropriate response to the coming of the kingdom in and through the person of Jesus.
The call of the first disciples on the shore of the Lake Galilee that immediately follows Jesus’ proclamation provides a perfect illustration of true repentance, that is a decisive and radical change of life. The story shows how ordinary people were transformed from fishermen to the disciples and apostles of Jesus. Jesus’ invitation to the two brothers, Simon and Andrew, was simple but challenging. First, he asked them to follow him and then to become fishers of people. Taking the initiative, Jesus met the brothers in the midst of their ordinary life and asked them to leave it, and thus to change their life orientation and goals. They responded to Jesus’ invitation by leaving their belongings and abandoning their profession, their lives would flow in a different direction from now on. Similarly, Jesus altered the lives of James and John, the sons of Zebedee. Mark repeatedly uses the word “immediately”, to create a sense of the urgency of the call and determined decisiveness on the part of those called. Their response was prompt and total, a change of life without looking back, which is a perfect illustration of what repentance is about.
Today’s readings teach that openness to change and the desire for God are the foundations of repentance. The people of Nineveh listened to the divine message delivered through Jonah, and opened their hearts to God by repenting of their evils, thus saving their city and lives. Paul called the Corinthians to a change of focus in their current life, which is yet another type of repentance. Jesus’ first disciples listened to his call. Changing the direction and the character of their life, they became the first recipients of the blessings of the reign of God. These disciples were open enough to Jesus and his message to face the enormous challenge of leaving behind their well-established existence. Such openness to change is always rooted in the desire to know and experience the divine in the midst of ordinary life, the desire well known to the Psalmist who pleaded with God, “make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths; lead me in your truth, and teach me”.
Listening to the Word of God
Each one of us came into this life by God’s decision. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary in some unique way. We are not some casual and meaningless products of evolution. God cares for us as his children and is concerned with our salvation. As followers of Christ, we can ask ourselves whether we live with this deep sense of God’s presence in our lives and our world. Looking at the world today, we are often overwhelmed by the sense of gloom caused by the clear evidence of falsehood, corruption, and evil that surrounds and threatens us. Such perception discourages and detaches our hearts from our creator. Yet, we can turn this gloom to our advantage. Jonah’s message to the Ninevites was one of a threatening doom. However, his dark message did not lead them to despair but rather to a life-changing repentance. In our time, when we see the wrongs of our world, we can treat these as a call to repent from all that separates us from God. We might treat these negative and threatening aspects of life as a call to turn away from wickedness.
As Christians, we are often ourselves tainted by sin which brings darkness to the world. Today’s call to repentance and change of heart contains a challenge to openness that allows us to admit our own faults. Starting with such admission, we can respond to God by altering whatever makes our life unchristian and inhuman. Openness to change relies on honesty about who and where we are in life.
Today’s call to a change of heart also means detachment from what imprisons or possesses us, making a change of life impossible. We live in the world where many people are concerned with the securities of the past and are not ready to let go of these securities in order to let Christ in. These securities include traditions and worldviews which we inherited from our predecessors. These are often rooted in our cultures, customs, political and religious systems. Some of them are very good, some are not. We need to judge carefully which of these are in line with our Christian faith and help us to live better lives, and which hold us and our society back.
When Jesus called his disciple to follow him and promised to make them fishers of people, he made a very direct and life-changing offer. To accept his invitation, they first had to leave their securities behind; they had to detach themselves from all they had and knew, including the way of life they had learned. The decision was theirs, and it was wholehearted. They could have said “No!”. But, by their ability to move on in life, they became world-changers by bringing the good news about Jesus to others and doing the same things as Jesus did. Their willingness to accept change by leaving things behind made this possible.
Just as Jesus’ disciples, we, the modern disciples, must also be willing to open our lives to Jesus’ invitation and be willing to leave certain things behind. Such a process may be painful at times. Let us, therefore, be open to change, sometimes by admitting our wrongs. Let us also be willing to leave some good things behind, even if they are good and important for us, and more importantly, when they prevent us from bettering ourselves and our communities. These are the conditions of true discipleship. These are also the demands that need to be met, in order to make progress in life drawing ever closer to God’s salvation.
Am I open and honest enough to acknowledge that some of my actions and behaviour might be hurtful and harmful to others? What actions are these?
What are the practices and beliefs that prevent me from moving on in life and making myself a better person for myself and others?
Response to God
I will honestly reflect on my sins and wrongdoings, and then confess them to God with prayer for strength and guidance to have a change of heart.
Response to your World
Following self-examination, I will identify one of the attitudes or beliefs that prevent me from living a full and Christian life, and will take measures to rid myself of it.
As a group, we will discuss and identify wrong and harmful traditions and beliefs that operate in our environment, blocking our community (family, parish, school) from making a change for good. We will identify and resolve to take steps to detach ourselves from them.
Here I am Lord, you have called me to follow you. Send me your Holy Spirit to open my eyes to see what I need to change or leave behind to follow you closely. Make me receptive to your word and willing to take steps that will bring me forward in life and closer to you. Amen.