Today’s readings: Jonah 3, 1-5.10; 1 Corinthians 7, 29-31; Mark 1, 14-20
We live in times that are fluid where values, culture, religion and spirituality are concerned. The changes in our vision of the world are overwhelming and personally, intellectually and spiritually disruptive. Our age is an age in search of orientation, and in itself that demands on our part to know where we stand and to a change of heart on a host of issues.
We read about this same climate in today’s readings. Both Jonah in the first reading and Jesus in St Mark’s gospel stand for something new being born where religion and God are concerned. In both cases there is a sense of urgency that the time has come and that it is a time of reckoning.
We have long been witnessing a discontinuity between the old world we knew and the new one unfolding before our very eyes. Romano Guardini was a German theologian who already in 1950 had written a study, The End of the Modern World, meant to provide orientation in fluid times. He writes that the great historic eras through which the West has passed stand in continuity with one another. But the world of tomorrow seems to retain nothing from the past.
If we meditate on the world we live in, Jonah’s call for conversion in Nineveh and Jesus’s call to a new form of discipleship both strike home. Jonah was commissioned to preach to Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire and the declared enemy of Israel. He resented being sent in an environment he considered hostile, but on second thoughts he changed his mind and ended up being a sign of spiritual awakening in Nineveh.
In St Mark’s gospel, Jesus returns to Galilee “after John had been arrested”, meaning in a climate which was not at all receptive of hearing about God’s kingdom. There, by the Sea of Galilee, he recruits the first disciples who would eventually be the foundations of the new time he was inaugurating. Jesus was transitional in his time, bridging the old with the good news of a new awakening.
We need to see what Nineveh and Galilee stand for in our situation today and how this demands on our part to rethink an awful lot. We cannot look down on the new world, as Jonah did with Nineveh, as if it is simply godless and not deserving God’s mercy and compassion. It is in the world as it is that we are called to become signs of spiritual awakening.
As Jesus did in Galilee, we need to rethink our religion, what we believe and how we live it. Jesus turned a new page because the religion promoted by the religious authorities of his time no longer responded to the real needs of salvation that the people thirsted for. Choosing the first disciples and uprooting them from the ruts they were in marks the beginning of a new spiritual adventure meant to be uplifting for a people on the edge of losing hope.
Even today, as in Nineveh and Galilee, we are faced with urgent issues that impact our modern life in the city and which we need to tackle from the perspective of a renewed faith. We cannot speak of a spiritual awakening in our communities while life in the city is at the mercy of a political class that has distorted what politics should be. We cannot celebrate our liturgies in community while ignoring the shattering loneliness that is killing people and communal living.
We cannot claim to be disciples of Christ while we are disenchanted where our civil duties are concerned and cynical about building a different future. Jonah reminds us how easily we can betray our own faith, and Jesus provokes us to embrace discipleship as a radical choice that can make a world of difference, holding on to the hope that God never abandons the world He created.
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