Action or reaction?

This past Sunday’s readings were an interesting complement from Old to New Testament. The first reading was from the book of Jonah and Mark’s gospel spoke of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. While on the surface they may not seem very similar, a closer look may cause us to question how we would respond.

Many of us are familiar with the story of Jonah and his stay in the belly of a whale. But the Sunday reading was about the city of Nineveh where he reluctantly goes to preach after being spewed out on the beach by said whale. More precisely, it’s about the  reaction of the people of Nineveh to Jonah’s message. While we don’t know what evil actions precipitated God’s threat to destroy the whole city, there must have been widespread need for repentance.  The city was large; it took 3 whole days to walk through it. However, word can spread faster than the messenger can carry it, and Jonah had only been walking one day when the whole city believed the message. Would you believe if someone started walking through your city or town announcing imminent destruction? Or would you laugh and scoff at that person? The fact that they believed the message is rather incredible. Or is it? Since God is all-knowing, perhaps he knew they would respond, and thus gave them this opportunity to correct their relationship with Him. But the citizens didn’t just believe the message and say, “Ooops, sorry God. We’ll do better.” They reacted to the message by taking action: they proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth.

In Mark’s gospel, as Jesus begins to preach He says, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mk 1:15) He calls us first to repent, to change our ways. Only after we have taken action to change can we believe in the message He brings. As he begins to call followers, Simon, Andrew, James and John all must make a decision. They must stop what they are doing, leave their families and livelihoods in order to follow Jesus. They didn’t tell Jesus to wait until they untangled the nets; and they didn’t tell Him they would catch up with Him. He called and they responded, just like the citizens of Nineveh.

How do you respond when God calls you? Do you react? Or do you take action?

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