One of the greatest inventions of our time is the telephone technology. It is so ingenious and helpful in many productive ways. Since the advent of the mobile telephone in Nigeria for instance, most people have stopped undertaking long and often perilous journeys to visit relations and friends to discuss one issue or another. Today, such people could be reached using mobile phones. Telephone makes it easy for us to communicate and share information with people who are thousands of miles away from us. The basic utility of telephone is for the placing and receiving of calls.
Still reflecting on the telephone technology, some people often refuse to answer when they are called on the phone for various reasons. Some people may be so uncomfortable with a call that they could busy the in-coming call while some may go to the extreme by blocking a caller from reaching them or switching off their phones entirely. Summarily put, a call can be answered or unanswered. In all however, there is always a purpose or reason for every call; even if it is merely to hear someone’s voice.
Jonah could be seen from the lenses of our modern time as someone who refused to pick God’s call or if you like someone that switched off his phone and took off when God sent him on a mission to Nineveh. Before we address the points in the First Reading (Jonah 3:1-5; 10) it will be proper to examine why God asked Jonah to go to Nineveh in the first place and why he decided to run away “switching off his phone”.
Nineveh of that time was the capital city of Assyria and also the capital of the known world at the time. As the meeting point of the high and mighty and a commercial crossroad, it brought together many people from various nationalities and cultures. On account of the busyness of the city and the cultural hybridization, it also became an irreligious and morally porous ground; more like a “Sin City”. Let us also not forget that the Israelites suffered captivity in the hands of the Assyrians.
God was sending Jonah to Nineveh to preach to them about repentance or face destruction. But Jonah saw the idea of going to preach to them as preposterous and unnecessary. He knew that God could be merciful to them after all and his words of imminent destruction of the city would be faulted. On the strength of this he decided to escape to Tarshish (Southern Spain) through the seaport at Joppa all in an effort to run away from God. One wonders if anyone could run away from God or hide from Him. David was aware of this when he confessed that no one could possibly hide or run away from God as He is everywhere (Psalm 139:7-12).
While on the way to the Hispanic land, the ship Jonah boarded started experiencing turbulence with a fierce wind from God tossing the vessel around. Jonah was sure he was the cause and went to have an emergency sleep in some hidden compartment of the ship. When he was discovered he did not deny that he was the cause of the turbulence and after some deliberations, he asked them to throw him into the troubled water and instantly everything became normal. However, God CALLED upon a big fish (whale) to go and swallow Jonah and keep him for three days and thereafter to spit him out by the shore of the sea facing the city of Nineveh.
The First Reading today begins from the second commission given to Jonah by God to go and preach to the people of Nineveh. This time he had no need to run. We are told that Nineveh was a great city which could take three days by foot; the same number of days Jonah was in the belly of the fish. However, God did not allow him to walk for the three days. It took only one day and when he announced the word of God it went faster that his legs. Thus everyone in the city got the message and responded by repenting.
From the narrative we gathered that the city was indeed very large and we could also add very beautiful. However in spite of its size and wealth it was filled with evil and wickedness. Sometimes we assume that when something is big, mighty and beautiful it will be free from evil. Nineveh remains an example for us to learn from. Next, we are told that it could take three days for Jonah to walk round the city to preach to them. However when he started God completed the walk for him. This tells us that when we walk with God, the road becomes shorter and easier. We only need to start and God will perfect what he has started in us (Phil. 1:6).
Finally, when the people of Nineveh heard the message of God from Jonah they accepted it and also repented. One cannot but admire their prompt and speedy reaction to the message of the prophet. They did not wait for the next day, the next month, the next year as some of us keep postponing even our reconciliation with God in the sacrament of confession. When was your last good confession? God on His part accepted them immediately and forgave them their sins and the punishment due to them. Do we like God reconsider and reconcile with those who offended us.
In the Gospel Reading (Mk.1:14-20) we read about the call of four of the apostles namely: Simon, Andrew, James and John. They had one thing in common and that is that they were fishermen. When our Lord called them, they left everything; their boats, nets (and for James and John) their father. They followed our Lord Jesus Christ without asking questions like: “how can we become fishers of men?” Every single answer could be found in the one who called them.
Their prompt and unquestioning response to the call of our Lord Jesus Christ is reflective of St. Paul’s admonition in the Second Reading (1 Cor. 7:29-31) where he enjoined the Corinthians not to place so much premium on material concerns as time is passing. In another place St. Paul further said:
However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. (Acts 20:24)
The best disposition is thus to leave EVERYTHING and answer the call of the Lord. It is obvious that we are often hindered by various things in our effort to answer God’s call. There are indeed many who are holding on to their nets, boats and their fathers. These represent those things that contend for the attention we are supposed to give to God’s call and mission.
Like Jonah finally did, one of the best ways we can serve God is to assist in making Him known to the world around us. We may not be required to travel to any Nineveh. In fact, there are many Ninevehs around us. Nineveh here represents those around us who are in need of God. We could attend to them not by condemning them as sinners but by making honest effort to share the word of God by our helpful and soothing words and actions. In fact, every baptized Christian is a potential Jonah and fisherman. It will be proper for us to examine how far we have gone into the Ninevehs around us and also how many fish we have been able to catch.
As we launch into the third week in ordinary time of the year let us try to be continually aware of the fact that we are in one way or the other called by God. And as the Psalmist would say: “Oh that today you would listen to His voice harden not your hearts.”(Psalm 95:8).
Have a great and fulfilling week ahead.