Jonah 3: 1-5, 10; 1Cor 7: 29-31; Mark 1: 14-20
Although the theme that runs through the first reading and Gospel today is that of repentance, it takes some time before Jonah and the disciples that are called, and us, can get to the point where they can preach it not just with words but in the very actions and way they live their lives. Yet, there is a sense that they are primed for something new, a change. Both Jonah and the disciples will be called to come out of the confines of their lives and even into the images they hold of themselves and to step out into something new. Really, though, it’s not new; rather, it’s who we always were! The best image is that they find themselves in an “incubator”, a pressure cooker of sorts where they can feel uncomfortable, being readied for the call that is given.
Of course we all know Jonah’s story. We know the story of him being swallowed up in the belly of the whale before being spit out in the place he didn’t want to go, the banks of Nineveh. We do know, though, that he enters this call from God with much trepidation, as any of us would. To be the bearer of bad news, alone, against the world, none of us would enter it enthusiastically. And so, God needs to do some work and Jonah is cast into the belly of that whale, which becomes his own confined space, his own incubator where he can be purified and readied for the task at hand. It allows him the time to wallow in his own misery and sinfulness, reflect on his unworthiness as called by God, and be purified and cleansed of it all. When ready, he’s spit out of the whale, but now with nothing but what is needed, inner strength and trust in God, in order to accomplish the mission. Like Jonah, in the incubator of our own lives, when we begin to feel confined by it all, we are stripped bare only to be spit out with what we truly need to accomplish, our mission and now not only to preach repentance by words, but by the way he lived his life. Before he can preach repentance he must first experience it for himself. It doesn’t mean one and done. No, Jonah will immediately get upset with God because the people of Ninevah changed so quickly whereas for him it felt like torture. What Jonah didn’t understand, yet, was that his own change and experience of repenting and conversion freed the people up as well.
The disciples are confined as well, but not in a whale, rather in their boats. It’s the boats that they are called to come from. We can speculate that it’s not a life that they had freely chosen. They were with their father and probably their father’s father was a fisherman and so their was expectation for them as well. They too were primed for something new but not quite ready for the incubator that would ready them for living the call of conversion. They first must be called from the original confines and choose to follow Jesus on the road. It won’t be until later in the story, when the encounter the cross, that they will find themselves in the incubator of the upper room where they wallowed in their own sin, were consumed by fear, locked themselves inside, only to encounter the Christ who frees them and sends them out into the world, changed and repented. Then, and only then, will the called disciples begin to do more than preach the message of repentance but live it by their lives, when they are now called from the upper room, stripped of all that they thought it should have been and the expectations they held, and to go out to all nations.
Corinth, well, repentance was far from their minds, both by words and by actions. Paul uses language that should have at least called their actions into view. The world in its present form is passing away. There is much purification that must take place in their lives, in the context that it is all passing and they must ask themselves what is most important. They had become bogged down in the confines of their own sinfulness and darkness and can no longer see as God sees. Ever so gently, Paul tries to lead them to that incubator in their own lives, to be purified and cleansed, stripped of all that is not necessary, for it will all pass away and God calls us to a deeper life, a life of repentance both by word and actions. As we would call it today, a life of integrity where our words and actions are married as one.
We all may be at different places on our own journey, and we are. We may be those young disciples taking that first step out of the early confines of life, moving beyond the decisions made for us to begin to test the waters of our own lives. We may find ourselves trapped in that incubator, that pressure cooker of life, maybe not yet desiring to be purified and cleansed to live out my own call, but comfortable in my own sin and wallowing in self-pity, wondering why everything around me hasn’t changed, when it’s myself being called to change and repent. Regardless, we’re all called to that deeper life of trust and faith. God invites us into this process wants to spit us out onto the shores from the depths of our souls, likely, exactly where we don’t want to be, to accomplish His work and mission in our lives and the world. God is calling us now to that life of repentance, that we too may be stripped of all we thought we were and should be and to be spit out the person we have always been and created to be, to not only preach the good news but to live it and model it by our very lives.