On my recent trip to San Diego, I was grateful for one certain app on my cell phone: Mapquest. That app showed me what route to take and also told me how to get to my destination by means of public transit. I didn’t get lost once. Having the right directions certainly made for an easier journey.
Life itself is a journey and Jesus has come to give us directions to make our journey through life easier. “Repent and believe in the gospel,” he proclaims at the start of his ministry; they are the first words he spoke in Mark’s gospel. Clearly this urgent message was important to him.
Two thousand years later, those six words continue to turn the world upside down. Repentance is something we should do whenever the need arises but what is it? It is not merely saying, “I’m sorry.” To be truly repentant, one must be willing to change one’s life. Now you may be thinking that I am out of season since repentance is the message we usually hear throughout Lent, which is weeks away, but repentance isn’t just a Lenten activity.
Think back to the first reading, which comes from one of the shortest books in the Bible. The book of Jonah can be read in minutes. You would think that this little book would be as obscure as the other less known books of the Bible yet Jonah’s story captures our imagination.
At the beginning of this book, God told Jonah, “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city and proclaim judgment upon it; for their wickedness comes before me.” But Jonah chose not to, fleeing instead in the opposite direction. He boards a ship, finds himself in a storm and blaming him for their plight, the crew throws him over board. The sea then calms down. Jonah spends three days in the belly of a big fish, a vision that foreshadowed Christ’s three days in the tomb.
He is then spewed upon the shore. From there he goes to Nineveh and proclaims God’s message of repentance to its residents. Much to his dismay, (after all, they are pagans) the citizens of Nineveh recognized their wrong-doing, repent, change their ways, and are spared by God.
Jonah delivered a timeless message. He has awakened countless listeners to the fact that morality is the one quality God seeks in us humans. God doesn’t care about our status in life, or where we live, or the color of our skin, or our past. What God desires is that we conduct ourselves in a moral manner in the present moment. Fortunately for us, God forgets the sin, but not the repentant sinner.
One could view Jonah’s ultimatum as a threat. “Do this or else, God will punish you!” That was a message we often heard while growing up from our parents and teachers. We are still told to do certain things or face the consequences if we don’t, such as observing the speed limit. Go too fast and you are apt to get a speeding ticket or cause an accident that could put a hefty dent in your wallet. When we act immorally, the pleasure is likely to be fleeting but the consequences could be long lasting. No wonder, Jonah’s message is well known: change directions or else!
Paul also cautions his listeners of their need to repent, telling them that life is fleeting. “I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out.” They need to embrace the Gospel and repent before it is too late. Paul then tells them that their world is passing away. The kingdom of God will render pointless all of the world’s false values and goals.
Unlike Jonah, Jesus didn’t march on the scene as a prophet of gloom and doom. Instead, He is telling us, “Something great is happening! Change direction and follow me or lose out!” There is more to life than simply avoiding sin. His call to repentance is an invitation to see life as God does: our path to heaven. Jesus has come to offer us the blueprint for building the Kingdom of God in our lifetime.
As followers of Christ, we should be the happiest people on earth. We know where we are going and we know how to get there. Along the way, there will be trials and tribulations to disrupt our journey. There are weaknesses in our human nature that often lead us astray, but then God knows we cannot make this trip alone. That is why Jesus is on the scene to give us directions. It comes down to you and me, today, hearing his call and responding as though our lives depend on it.
We can be the happiest people on earth if we accept Jesus’ invitation to follow him like the apostles did. They put aside everything and gave Jesus their undivided attention to learn his message of hope and salvation. His message impressed them so much that, unlike reluctant Jonah, they went forth with great enthusiasm and shared Jesus’ directions with anyone who would listen.
Today’s Gospel summarizes Jesus’ teaching. His message is simple: repent and believe in the Gospel, the Good News. The Good News is that happiness and peace are offered to us if we are willing to fight against evil and turn to the Lord. The Good News is that nothing can take Christ away from us. No one, no situation in life, nothing can destroy the joy that we have in being united to the Lord.
My friends, these readings extend the invitation for us to repent and believe that what Jesus has to say will make a difference in your life journey and mine, providing us with the best directions for living life fully and reaching heaven.