The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day. Change of heart and believe in the Gospel
There is material for personal reflection and dialogue with any period in history in today’s readings. Jesus’ call in the Gospel reading to repent, for a change of heart, and belief in the Gospel, is addressed to individuals and society in any age of history. As already noted, repentance here means a change of heart and a change in one’s ways, and is practically the same as belief in the Gospel. That call was valid for every person and society of Jesus’ day, and later, and is still valid in our own day. All Jesus’ disciples, from Simon (Peter), Andrew and others onwards had to make that change of mind and direction. For the first disciples and the Jewish community of Jesus’ day it would mean a change from what was central to their lives directed by their tradition and the law of Moses to the Gospel and its values. The same principle held when the Gospel message was preached beyond Judaism, to Greek and Roman culture. There, too, it was a call to a change of focus and ways to the Gospel and its message, to the new community of believers created by the Gospel.
For us and the Church today the call still holds, but it is not always easy to determine what change of mind, of mindset, of direction, is indicated by Jesus’ original call. Today’s first reading from the prophet Jonah provides material for reflection. The message of this book is that God’s love and understanding of the human race, even of the Jews’ sworn enemies, went far beyond what the people of Israel or the prophet Jonah were prepared to accept. When first called, Jonah did wish to preach God’s message to the people of Nineveh. At the end of the book he tells God that the reason he fled to sea at the beginning was that he knew that God was a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Jonah was a grumbler, getting angry about many things. God’s reply to him, which serves as an ending to the entire book, are very telling. God says: “Should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also so many animals?”.
In our own day the Church is trying to find ways in which to enter into dialogue with contemporary life and culture, and how it should change its mind and ways so as to make the abiding love and mercy of God better known to the modern mind, while at the same time remaining true to the Gospel message. Pope Francis is particularly interested in all this. We can all reflect on these truths and pray to God that any dialogue will have a positive outcome.