You might have notice that the theme of “repentance” pops up in this morning’s readings. Jonah answers the call of God and walks the streets of Nineveh calling on people to repent and they respond to the call. Jesus begins his public ministry in Galilee calling on people there to repent. He calls on Simon and Andrew and James and John. They respond by leaving behind a good business and following his call.
Repentance. Responding to the call of God.
The book of Jonah tells us that the people of Nineveh put on sackcloth and ashes and began repenting. Sackcloth and ashes makes us think of someone bent over, probably looking scraggily and forlorn and wearing what looks like a potato sack while they wail and moan about their sinfulness and their sorrow.
It’s a sign of humility and the awareness of one’s sinfulness. But that’s just part of repentance.
Repentance is turning to the light. The Light is the Truth that is God. Part of that is the sorrow and guilt like that of our buddy in the potato sack, but just a part. Repentance is when we turn to God and say yes to God, just as Jonah did. Yes, we will live our lives in Your Truth.
Repentance is conversion. When we choose to come into the light of God’s truth, we change. We see our sin, so we are humbled and ask for forgiveness. Beyond that, the grace of God leads us to want to change our lives and live in the light. The Greek word for this is “metanoia.” It simply means that once you know the truth, your life is changed. You cannot go back. You have set a new course.
In a way, this is Paul’s message in Corinthians. When he wrote this letter, he was sure that the final judgment was imminent. For most of his apostolic life, Paul thought the second coming would happen in his life time. Only later in life did he realize it would not. But Paul’s message smacks of metanoia, of conversion. Our lives change when Christ is in us. The things of the world that we held as important will eventually pass away. Only in Christ will our lives find true hope, true peace, and true love. So we choose to live a life of hope, peace and love. It will change the way we live, as Paul points out in the examples he gives.
We see how Simon, Andrew, James and John responded. It makes no sense to us that they would just walk out on a good family business that their fishing business was, unless they realized in some way that they were walking into the Light of Christ. The “fishers of men” statement must’ve struck them in their hearts. Metanoia. Conversion. They changed. They went and followed Christ, and gave their lives for him completely.
We hear the same call from Jesus now. Maybe he isn’t expecting big things from us such as he did from the Apostles and St. Paul. Maybe he’s asking us to put him first in our lives. Maybe he’s asking to live in his love more deeply toward our family, our friends and even ourselves. Maybe he’s asking us to change in ways that may not be immediately noticeable to the world around us. Or maybe he is calling us to a new life in his service. Are we responding to the call?
Now, Remember, Jonah was repentant himself. That whole business of him in the belly of the whale had to do with his running from the Light, his fear of going to Nineveh in the first place. He could not call others to repent until he had done so himself. And if you read on in Jonah, you’ll see that after doing God’s work, he would need to repent some more. Part of Jonah was hoping that the wicked of Nineveh would be punished. Instead, they embraced God fully and God embraced them. Jonah was a little miffed by this and needed further conversion to see the glory of God’s plan.
Our own lives are probably like Jonah’s. The call to conversion is a continuous one. Like Jonah, we find ourselves repenting and returning to God over and over again. It is the way we are and God knows this. This is exactly why Christ came as Man and died for our sins, so that we can continue repenting and converting, This is why we have Reconciliation and this is why we have the Eucharist, Christ is present with us in the Spirit through the sacraments, leading us as he led Simon, James, Andrew and John. This is the life he calls us to as well... Repenting and converting is the journey to God. Perhaps C.S. Lewis said it best when he wrote that we are like children running home when our mother calls us for dinner. We stumble and scrape and cut ourselves. We trip and fall into puddles. But we know our mother is there with a hot bath and warm towels and clean clothes and all will be well. So we continue on our journey as Simon, Andrew, James, John, Paul and Jonah did, stumbling along the way, falling in the puddles, but knowing that God loves us, forgives us and his waiting for us with the hot bath and clean clothes.
Repenting is our response to God’s love when you act in love towards your spouse, your children, your co-workers… you are repenting, converting. When you pray, you are repenting. And when you come here to draw together in the grace of the Eucharist, you are answering the call as the Apostles and did and Christ responds with his presence and his love.