Repentance is NOT “stop being naughty” … it’s about caring for each other and the environment
“Brothers [& Sisters]: our time is growing short.” This line is a wake-up call for us.
In ordinary life, we often think in terms of: how many years have I got left?
However, the Corona-Virus has reminded us, life can end more suddenly.
And not just physical life, but also our social life and economic well-being.
Too often, when we hear the call to repentance, we get fixated on sins like:
not praying, lying, bad language, lack of charity, avoiding church or sexual misbehaviour. Those things can be important, but the world around us is also very important.
More and more, my respect for the scientists and other prophets, warning about the urgency of climate change, is growing. The evidence being presented by scientists, is really the cry of Jonah, the Pope, the young lady from Sweden, and many others around the world.
Perhaps CoronaVirus has reminded us all, more than any other event since World War II: that we need each other, & must cooperate with each other, if we’re to be safe & successful.
Our first reading is very condensed but, essentially, we are invited to be prophets like Jonah. When a family is struggling to be happy and healthy, it’s usually because there are no rules, or the rules are ignored by one, two or more in the family. To ensure a change in life for the better, Mum or Dad need to stand up and say: “enough!”, this family is going to change.
Usually, it’s not easy to stand up and speak if we have been part of the problem.
However, it still needs to be done. Jonah was a “failure” but later came back and acted rightly.
The short passage today does not talk much about what Jonah did or how he dressed, but I’m sure Jonah’s actions and dress were examples and signs of humility.
When we stand up to call a point of order, we need to do the same.
1. Acknowledge we are part of the problem = humility;
2. Ask for forgiveness = respect for the others;
3. Suggest the changes we need to more forward more successfully = prophetic voice.
So, what does Jesus teach us today, and how does it promote the teachings in the First Reading? Jesus is pulling a team together. And the members of that team are a surprise:
1. They are not perfect angels;
2. They are not highly educated people (academically);
3. They are not men with high social rank and authority.
But they are men who had courage to take a different step. Are we courageous enough?
The Disciples became prophets – but after some time of reflection, training and failure.
I believe these Disciples are very much within our grasp. And we should be inspired and encouraged to believe that, with the help of God, we too can become local prophets.
“The Good Lie” movie (2014), based on a true story, follows a group of children escaping the 2nd Civil War in South Sudan. One little girl and three small boys finally made it to the refugee camp in Kenya. After 10 years they finally reached the USA and started a new life.
As “outsiders” they were prophets of a sort: one was given a supermarket job. He was told to place the expired food into the rubbish bin. He was shocked. The next day as he came to put food into the bin a homeless lady was trying to get food out of the bin. He said: “stop, I have better food for you.” At that moment his boss came out and became very angry, exclaiming: “I’m a business man, I have to make money. You cannot give food away for free!”
To his credit, the Sudanese man took off his apron and said gently: “I cannot work here.” This man desperately needed a job. By his actions, he was calling us to repentance. How many people are going hungry while we destroy good food? Yes, it’s expired, but there’s a safety margin that would allow the food to be given away to charities for immediate use.
There are many other examples in each person’s life. Where can you be Jonah?
As the song goes: “from little things, big things grow.” Small steps lead to big changes.
Those in Australia can remember the small steps by one man (Ian Kiernan 1990) = Clean UP Australia. Now, all over the country, every year, thousands of people clean up rubbish in the country, the cities, the beaches, everywhere.
I’ve tried, several times, to talk to newspaper reporters about the exhaust pipes on trucks and buses. Currently, they discharge undiluted fumes to the side, into the faces of pedestrians. Most of the world demands that exhaust pipes extend above the roof of large vehicles.
In Swahili there’s a proverb: Toba ni vitendo = Repentance is deeds. If we love our children, we must move beyond words and “stand up” for repentance, in all its dimensions.
By Gerard Conlan, OMI