3 Sunday of the Year B
Jon 3:1-5, 10; 1Cor 7:29-31; Mk 7:14-20
Introduction: This is a homily/Scripture reflection in a book, titled: ‘Every Week God Speaks We Respond’, Cycle B, intended to be published in the future by Reverend John Tran Binh Trong.
It was published in Vietnamese in the US 2008 and republished in Viet Nam 2011. To keep the author’s writing style, this homily has not been edited and may not be by a hired hand. However, if readers would like to point out mistake(s) in spelling and grammar and/or to suggest English phrases and expressions, it would be greatly appreciated by the author, whose English is not his mother tongue and who did not live in the US until his adulthood. Passive sentences are used intentionally in this context as to avoid using the first personal pronoun ‘I’ when applicable. That might be associated with any idea of egotism, in accord with the French saying, known as: ‘Le moi est haissable’ (The ego is detestable).
Receiving a message of repentance and conversion to preach to the pagan people of Nineveh, the prophet Jonah tried to run away from the task, because he felt only God's people should hear his message of repentance. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, the archenemy of Israel in the eighth century before Christ. Nineveh was located on the west bank of the Tigris River, across from the modern city of Monsul in Iraq. That is why Jonah did not want the Ninevites to repent lest God might show mercy toward them. God gave Jonah a second chance to preach to the pagans of Nineveh. This time, Jonah obeyed.
The fact that God sent Jonah to preach the message of repentance to Nineveh showed that God is the God of all nations, not just of the Jews as Jonah was mistaken in thinking at first. As soon as the message of destruction was heard: Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed (Jon 3:4), the Ninevites began fasting and putting on sackcloth. For them, fasting and putting on sackcloth was not enough. They also abandoned their way of sin. That was important. The story of Jonah preaching the message of repentance to the pagans should have awakened an attitude of complacency of the chosen people. If God gave the people of Nineveh, an occasion to repent and they were ready to listen, and if the Ninivites were ready to return to God, then why were the chosen people of God not ready.
Today in the gospel message, Jesus calls people to repentance: This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel (Mk 1:15). Hearing the message of repentance, Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John abandoned their fishing career, cutting off past relations in order to follow Jesus. In our day, many people ignore the message of repentance because they do not think about death. Talking about death, many people think death only happened to others. They think it is not going to happen to them soon. The second reason why many people think they need not repent is that they think they do not steal, they do not commit adultery, they do not murder, and they do not miss mass on Sunday.
In order to have the spirit of repentance, it is necessary to look at the inside of ourselves in order to find out the roots of sin such as pride, jealousy, anger, hostility, selfishness, slander, greed and so on. These are garbage of the soul. The next step is to throw away garbage. If we do not want to keep junk in our house, why should we want to keep junk in our soul. In order to have the spirit of repentance, we should ask for the spirit of fear of the Lord, not in the sense that we dare not go to God, but in the sense that we dare not do things that are unpleasing to him. Fear of the Lord is necessary for the salvation of soul. Without the spirit of fear of the Lord, one can hardly have the spirit of repentance.
The second Vatican council, in its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy states: The Church announces the good tidings of salvation to those who do not believe, so that all men may know the true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent, and may be converted from their ways, doing penance (Sacrosanctum Concilium #9). Then the Council continues surprisingly: To believers also the Church must ever preach faith and penance (SC # 9). Penance or better-termed repentance means turning away from the way of sin, and turning toward God. Repentance must be a true renewal, necessary for all of us. Repentance does not mean an external change, but an inner conversion. Repentance is suitable for all people of all times and all circumstances. Repentance is different from a complex of sin. When a penitent has confessed his/her sin sincerely and sin has been forgiven, then his/her sin is forgiven. He/she needs no doubt, whether his/her sin has been forgiven. However, a pious Christian should stir up and maintain a spirit of repentance necessary for staying closer to God, not only in mind, but also in heart. To bring the idea of repentance and atonement for sin to our daily works, especially those works, which we do not like, should help us do our works easier.
That was what Saint Teresa, the Infant of Jesus did as recorded in her book of autobiography titled Story of a Soul. It was reported when a fellow sister, due to her jealousy, splashed soap bubble over Saint Teresa’s clothes, Teresa did not object, but tolerated it, considered it as rose petals offered to God for the conversion of sinners and the salvation of souls. Teresa knew how to be united with God in her daily works. Lived in a cloister and died at the age of twenty-four, Teresa could not systematize her theology of union with God; she just lived the spirit of union. Saint Teresa also offered her daily activities in union with God to pray for missionary works. The spirit of repentance is very important for the spiritual life of a Christian.
Repentance should help us avoid sin in the future. Repentance should help us stay closer to the Lord in mind and heart. To have the spirit of repentance, it will beget another spirit. That is a spirit of humility, admitting our weakness and sinfulness. When admitting our weakness and sinfulness, one would feel the need for God and search for Him. To have the spirit of repentance, it will beget a second spirit that is a spirit of gratitude, gratitude for God's forgiveness of sin, gratitude for God's mercy toward our weakness and sinfulness. To have the spirit of repentance and the following spirits of humility and gratitude, one would feel closer to God, and would find it easy to discover God's presence in our lives, and happy to live our faith.
A prayer for a spirit of repentance:
Oh, Lord our God! You want sinners
to return to you so that they may live.
May those sinners realize that
their sins offend you.
May they respond to the message of repentance
so that they may receive your forgiveness.
And may I also realize that I myself
need repentance and your gift of forgiveness. Amen
John Tran Binh Trong