Live of Repentance
Third Sunday of the Year. Fr Peter Harries ponders how we can share in Christ’s mininstry of preaching repentance.
In today’s gospel, Mark gets straight to the point, with little to distract us or set the scene. Today’s passage is only the second scenario in the gospel, just after Mark has started his Gospel by telling us of the baptism of Jesus with the preaching of John the Baptist.
Jesus calls first Andrew and his brother Simon (Peter) from their fishing boat and then their colleagues James and John who abandon their father Zebedee. These first disciples were not landless labourers or social misfits. They were self-employed skilled workmen in family businesses, owning and repairing their boats and equipment, probably co-operating with each other. Galilee had a flourishing fish export trade, presumably including Jerusalem, which may account for Peter’s familiarity there. But why did the apostles abandon the – admittedly limited – security of their livelihoods and follow Jesus with no apparent economic means of support?
John, in his Gospel, tells us that Andrew and Peter had been followers of John the Baptist. They had answered his call for repentance, admitted their sins and shortcomings and presumably had been baptised by John the Baptist. So it is reasonable to assume that all four of these fishermen had already responded to God’s grace and were open to something more than a lifetime of heavy labour on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, along perhaps with marketing trips to Jerusalem.
Jesus doesn’t just invite them to join a mission of preaching repentance. Repentance, turning away from evil and choosing good is the first step. We all know people who do try to turn away from some evil or another but fail. Indeed we ourselves often do so. There is further step: accepting the Good News, the Gospel of the Lord. Salvation is possible for you and for me. Jesus preached that the kingdom of God was close at hand. The apostles responded and preached from Galilee to far distant lands, that salvation had come, and that men and women could have their sins forgiven and live at peace with God and all creation.
In our first reading, Jonah eventually, despite his initial fervent rejection of God’s call, and his fantastic adventure with the whale, does go to Nineveh. There he preached repentance, and to his own amazement, is well received. The people repent of their sins. Disaster, we are told no longer falls upon that exceedingly great city.
We may caricature preaching repentance with the obnoxious guy outside the underground station blaring out a simplistic message on his loudspeaker to everyone’s annoyance. Billboards are out of fashion these days.
However, may I suggest that we preach repentance best by living lives of simplicity and charity? How we do this will differ, depending on our family situations, our responsibilities, our jobs and our temperaments. In our second reading, Paul writing to the Corinthians gave some suggestions, although his suggestions are heavily influenced by his hope that the second coming of Jesus was imminent. But we can perhaps take some of them on board. A life dedicated to enjoyment, to pleasure, will leave us shallow beings unable to love deeply. A life dedicated to buying things, ‘I shop therefore I am’ – to misquote the famous philosopher Descartes – is an attachment to consumable things and not to virtue. And if Paul meant by a life of buying things, a mercantile life, then may I suggest that a mercantile life can be a life of service to others, providing necessities rather than yet more expensive fripperies. Paul completes the list by mentioning that those who deal in the world should not be engrossed by it. Our values must be true virtues and not the values of the world which too often allow exploitation of others, or the degradation of creation.
So how do we imitate the apostles and follow after Jesus? The simple answer is by trusting in God and in his mercy. Yes we may be tested by bereavement, by illness, by violence against us. But Jesus tells us that we will not be tempted beyond our endurance. So let us faithful in little things, by small acts of kindness and self-denial, so we can pick up our cross and follow after him to Calvary and then to the resurrection from the dead and eternal life with Jesus in heaven. Or we may be called to more dramatic ways.