Saturday, January 21, 2012

On a mission

A Catholic Priest, an Episcopal minister and a Baptist preacher were standing near a river conversing when the subject of which church was closest to God arose. The Catholic priest said that of course there was no argument that the Roman Catholic Church was. They were descended directly from the Apostles, in fact Peter was their first Pope. Then he said, “In fact, we are so close that I can even walk on water like Jesus,” and he proceeded to walk on the water to the other side. Then the Episcopal minister said that his church was very similar in origin to the Catholics and he too demonstrated his ability to walk on water like Jesus Christ. The Baptist preacher said that it didn’t matter where Baptist origins were. He studied the Word and preached it purely. Since the other two could walk on water, he should be even better at it. He took one step forward and sunk knee deep into the river. Looking at the Baptist, the Catholic Priest whispered to the Episcopalian, "Do you think we should tell him where the rocks are?"

Our Scriptures today offer us two powerful examples of God calling people to ministry – first, Jonah and his mission to Nineveh and then, Jesus calling the Apostles. For Jonah in our first reading, the city of Nineveh represented the worst of everything – it was a place of godlessness, immorality and corruption. Nineveh, located in what is today northern Iraq, was the capital of the Assyrian empire that had conquered and colonized the kingdom of Judah. It had looted and destroyed the Temple, and carried many people into exile and slavery. It was a large city where the law of the survival-of-the-fittest reigned supreme. Materialism, expressing itself in all forms of immorality, corruption and crime was the order of the day. For pious Jews like Jonah, Nineveh was the godforsaken city, the highway to perdition where evil reigned without any hope of change. It was a hopeless city, populated by lost souls without the slightest hope of regaining God’s favor. No wonder Jonah objected to being sent there. As far as he was concerned the mission to Nineveh was nothing but an exercise in futility. The big surprise in the story is that as soon as the “godforsaken” people of Nineveh heard the Word of God, they received it with eagerness, repented with sincerity, and regained God’s mercy and forgiveness.

In the Gospel we see Jesus calling of the 12 who would become His Apostles and the first leaders of what would become the Church. Jesus called the most unlikely bunch to head up Church. Let’s remember that Peter will deny him, James and John will fight over what preferential position they might have in the Kingdom, Thomas doubts the resurrection, Judas betrays him, the rest run in fear. But, God chooses who He will to do His work. In both the story of Jonah and the calling of the 12, God reached down to earth and called upon finite, limited, sinful, even fallen people to follow him – and when they decided to cooperate with God’s plan, great things happened. The disciples too, struggled for a long time to understand who Jesus was and why he had such an effect on them. Yet in both situations, God formed those He had called into true servants, powerful witnesses of His love.

Today, the message for us is that what God asked of Jonah; what God asked of the Apostles – God asks of us. He wants each one of us to be His witnesses, His servants – to witness to and serve His Kingdom. It doesn’t matter what education we possess, or how dedicated we may be, or what we have to bring to the mix, or even what others think of our ability to be holy. God doesn’t look at what we have done, but rather God sees through us to our potential. God doesn’t worry about who or what we are; His concern is what we can become when we follow His will for us. If God calls us, it is only because He knows that we can accomplish what He asks.

Eventually God invites each of us to follow Him more closely and to participate in His mission. This might require major life changes – a change of career or lifestyle. It might require a smaller, but no less important change – perhaps a transformation of our present careers into a works of service. No matter the career path we have chosen to follow – whether teaching, medicine, the legal profession or business – we have a basic decision to make: do we pursue it solely as a means of livelihood and personal enhancement and material acquisition; or do we use it as a means of service to God and humanity. Remember, in and through God, the fishermen are transformed into fishers of souls. Their work is transformed from being self-centered to being God-centered, from being self-seeking to seeking the glory of God and the benefit of all people.

My brothers and sisters, God is still sending each of us on the mission to Nineveh today. He wants us to bring His Word to any and all of the places where godlessness, immorality and evil reign in our world. God invites us to bring the Good News – to be the Good News – to unimaginable places and “impossible” situations. The good news for us is that these “hopeless” cases are not hopeless after all. For if even Nineveh could turn back to God so can any situation we encounter in life. Nothing – no difficulty, no hurt or pain, no illness, no broken relationship – nothing, is beyond the power of God to heal, to change, to turn into glory.

God calls each of us to something unique in His Kingdom. All we have to do is be faithful to Him in the little things that He calls us to each day. We may or may not be called to shout the Gospel from the mountaintops, but we are all called to live that Gospel in our daily lives – with our spouses, children, parents, friends, co-workers. God forms us into His disciples capable of making a difference in the world, just like the Apostles and just like Jonah. All He’s looking for are humble, open and willing hearts.

And let us hope that God will say to each of us, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of souls.” And give us the courage to abandon what we were doing and follow Him.

May God give you peace.

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