People generally don’t like to be told that they need to repent. They especially don’t want to hear this from a friend, family member or a co-worker. The message to “clean up your act” may be received slightly better coming from a member of the clergy or religious, but there will still be some resistance. When one warns another that their immoral behavior may have eternal consequences, it is often perceived as a “holier and thou” speech and promptly ignored.
This reaction is not much different than what the prophets, and even Jesus, experienced when they tried to warn the people that they must change their ways. In the First Reading from today’s Mass (Jon 3:1-5, 10), there is a bit of a “twist” in that the people actually heed the advice of the prophet Jonah and turn away from their sinful ways. As a result, they are spared God’s wrath.
In today’s Gospel (Mk 1:14-20), Jesus calls the first of His Apostles. Just like the people of Nineveh, they respond positively when the Lord states, “repent and believe in the Gospel.” They left their old ways behind and followed Jesus. Today (January 25) is also the feast of The Conversion of Saint Paul. Saul of Tarsus was a notorious persecutor of Christians who also responded to the call of Christ and left his old way of life behind. The Lord changed his name to Paul and he went on to bring many people to Jesus.
During the course of our lives, you and I will be on both sides of this situation. Sometimes we will be the prophet proclaiming God’s word to people who may or may not be receptive. In this case, we can use Jonah as our role model. He wasn’t thrilled about his job of a prophet, but he did it anyway. As a result, the lives of many people were spared.
Other times, we will be the one being told to “repent and believe in the Gospel”. In this situation, we can imitate the people of Nineveh, the Apostles and Saint Paul. They all responded to The Lord’s request and were ultimately rewarded. In the case of the Ninevites, their lives were spared. In the case of the Apostles and St. Paul, they were rewarded with eternal life in Heaven.
How does God instruct us today? It may be through reading the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It may be in the form of a statement by the bishops or a declaration by The Holy Father. Whether we are the ones proclaiming the word or the ones receiving it, we must always strive to do God’s will. By doing that, we’ll know that one day we’ll receive our reward!