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.
“Change of Heart”
Today’s readings contain a call to repent, and proclaim the message of repentance to bring about a change of heart in us. This change of heart begins with listening to the voice of God and responding to it by a decisive change of life.
The first reading speaks about the prophetic mission of Jonah. He was summoned to bear witness to God before the people of Nineveh. This city was the capital of Assyria, a mortal enemy of Israel. Initially, Jonah refused to proclaim the message of repentance to the people of Nineveh. Jonah’s flight from God manifests his disobedience, and resulted in the great drama of his encounter with the whale. Perhaps Jonah was afraid that if the people of Nineveh repented, God in his mercy and compassion would abandon his plan to destroy them and would forgive them for their iniquity (Jonah 4:2). Jonah, as an Israelite prophet wished that this Assyrian city and its inhabitants be destroyed. Finally, however, Jonah accepted that the Lord willed to grant the Ninevites a final opportunity to repent. As we hear today, Jonah, willingly or unwillingly, agreed to prophesy the word of the Lord and did so faithfully.
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 stands for a time of transformation and change of heart. In the prophecy of Jonah, Nineveh receives a message of impending condemnation and doom. However, to Jonah’s surprise, his message is accepted by the Ninevites and provokes a radical and decisive response as they “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. Usually prophets were either ignored or met with ruthless opposition, constant resistance, cynicism and persecution, even to the extent of torture. 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, literally to “turn around”, before he could invite and challenge the Ninevites to abandon their evil ways and turn to the Lord. The story also shows that when the people repented from their evil, God too repents 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, St. Paul emphasizes on the urgency of repentance, as “the appointed time has grown short” (1 Cor 7:29). One of the many issues Paul deals with in 1 Corinthians 7 is the question of marriage and celibacy. In that community, some Christians devalued the institution of marriage. Though Paul affirms that living in celibacy has its own value, he affirms that both marriage and celibacy are charisms, gifts coming from God (1 Cor 7:7). Therefore, each one should choose their state of life according to the charism that God has granted him or her. Keeping in mind the imminent coming of the Lord, Paul in today’s reading urges Corinthians to adopt a new attitude towards God and others. Consequently, they should not be preoccupied with the concerns of worldly life. Rather they should devote their gifts, time and energy to serve the Lord and one another in the community. This requires a change of heart in turning from selfish pursuits focused on this world because, according to Paul, this world and its glory passes away. What serves God’s purposes has a lasting value because God lives forever.
The Gospel reading from Mark 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 has accepted the mission of the Father at his baptism (unlike Jonah!) and he summons people to conversion, “to repent and believe in the good news” (1:15). This marks the ushering in of the kingdom (reign) of God. Faith and repentance – the change of life’s orientation – are 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 Sea of Galilee (Mark 1:16-20) that immediately follows the proclamation of the kingdom of God, is a good illustration of what true repentance is – a decisive and radical change of life. The story shows how ordinary people changed their way of life from being fishermen to the disciples of Jesus. Jesus’ invitation to the two brothers, Simon and Andrew, was simple but challenging. First, he asked them to follow him and, second, to become fishers of people. In this calling of the first witnesses and co-workers in the work of bringing in of the kingdom, Jesus took the initiative. He met the brothers in the midst of their ordinary life and asked them to leave it, to change their life orientation and goals. They responded by leaving their belongings and abandoning their profession to follow Jesus. Similarly, Jesus disrupted the lives of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who did exactly the same with immediate effect. The word “immediately” used by Mark indicates a sense of urgency and decisiveness on the part of those who are called. Their response was prompt and total, a change of life without looking back, which is a good illustration of what repentance is all about.
Today’s readings teach that openness to change is the very first step to repentance. The people of Nineveh listened to the voice of God through Jonah and open their hearts to God by repenting of their sins. Their repentance, in turn, brought blessings from God and gave a new lease of life to the people of Nineveh. Paul calls the Corinthians to be open to the Risen Lord and focus their life on serving him. This required of them a change of focus in life, another type of repentance. Openness is also the first and foremost quality of a disciple. This openness to change emanating from one’s heart enabled the first disciples to follow Jesus wholeheartedly and unreservedly. Discipleship in its truest sense is an invitation to listen to the voice of the divine master and respond to it. By listening to the call of Jesus and changing the direction of their life, the disciples became the recipients of the blessings of the reign of God, that Jesus ushered in. Therefore, the plea for such openness that makes the change of heart possible should be foremost on the mind of every Christian who aspires to be Jesus’ true disciple. Such desire was well known to the Psalmist who pleaded to God, “make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths; lead me in your truth, and teach me”.
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. We are not some casual and meaningless products of evolution. God cares for us as his children and is concerned with the salvation of our souls. 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 wickedness and corruption that surrounds 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 such evils as corruption, ethnic prejudice, materialism, wickedness, disobedience and violence 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 changing whatever makes our life not what God intended it to be, and what we ourselves see as not being true to our identity as God’s children. 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 posses 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 ancestors. 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 the world 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 are they?
Identify the practices and beliefs that prevent you from moving on in life and making yourself a better person for yourself and others.
Response to God
Confess the sin that has made your heart detached God, blocking you from being a true disciple of Jesus Christ.
Pray for a new beginning in your life, being open to change and an encounter with Christ in order to be a true disciple.
Response to your World
As a group, discuss and identify wrong and harmful traditions and beliefs that operate in your environment blocking your community (your group, family, and parish, school) from making a change for good. Identify and resolve to take steps to detach yourself from them.