In this Sunday’s first reading (Jonah 3:1-5, 10) we are told that God saw how the people of Nineveh turned from their evil ways and therefore God spared them. In the Gospel reading (Mk. 1:14-20) we hear that Jesus saw Simon and Andrew about their ordinary and daily work of casting the nets and then later that Jesus saw James and John again about the very ordinary work of mending their nets. The scriptures help to teach us that how God sees is different than how humans see. God sees the human heart. We do not.
We know the story of Jonah. Jonah is sent to Nineveh to call the people to repentance lest they be destroyed for their evil ways. The people hear Jonah, they repent and they are spared. The Book of Jonah is about the overflowing and abundant mercy of God for all peoples. The people of Nineveh experience conversion … but there is more to the story. The story is also about the conversion required of Jonah. Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh. The people of Nineveh were the sworn enemies of the people of Israel at this time. Jonah would have been happy to see the city of Nineveh wiped off the face of the map! Jonah’s heart was hardened towards these people, so after the conversion of the city of Nineveh, God needs to come to the sulking prophet for his own personal conversion. God tells Jonah that all people are his children and that he has a fatherly care for all. Who is Jonah to judge? Who is Jonah to decide who lives and who dies? Who are we to judge? God alone sees the human heart and for God, all persons are his children.
The Book of Jonah offers an important lesson for us living in these polarized times. It is all too easy for us to judge the “other” whoever our own personal “other” may be. It has even become quite easy to wish ill on the “other”. But who are we? Did we form that person or persons in the womb? Did we call them to life? The Book of Jonah cautions us to avoid the pitfall of allowing our hearts to become hardened and embittered against the “other”.
In the gospel, God also sees into the human heart. Jesus sees Simon, Andrew, James and John all about the very ordinary work of life. They had probably cast their nets hundreds if not thousands of times before. They had probably mended their nets just as many times. Life can be tedious and we can fall into the rut of thinking that things can never change, that this is all there is. But underneath the tedious ordinariness of it all; Christ saw the yearning these men had in their hearts. A yearning placed there by God himself. Things can be different! We are meant for more! The Kingdom of God is possible! We can set our lives by the newness of life that Christ alone brings!
How God sees is different that how we see. God sees into the human heart. Yet now, in Christ, God calls us to begin to see how he sees. How can we do this? How can we avoid the pitfall of a hardened heart against the other and the rut of thinking nothing can change?
I want to share a prayer because I think from its language, we can learn some lessons.
Last Friday, our nation celebrated a tragic anniversary – the Supreme Court ruling of Roe v. Wade and since that tragic ruling sixty million lives have been lost. The Church has asked that a Mass be offered on this anniversary each year for the Dignity of Life. Here is the opening prayer for this Mass.
God our Creator, we give thanks to you,
who alone have the power to impart the breath of life
as you form each of us in our mother’s womb;
grant, we pray,
that we, whom you have made stewards of creation,
may remain faithful to this sacred trust
and constant in safeguarding the dignity
of every human life.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
There are beautiful lessons for the human heart to be learned from this prayer and, in learning these lessons, we can work to ensure that our hearts remain human and not hardened.
We have a Creator – each and every person! We are not merely the result of random chance or fate. We are each and every one willed into existence by God.
We give thanks. The most authentic gift we can give back to God, really the only gift we can give back, is gratitude. The discipline of gratitude in one’s life helps to keep the heart human and open to the possibility of new life.
God alone has the power to impart life. Who are we to try to claim that which belongs to God alone? Our hearts are hardened when we try to lay claim to that which is beyond us. Our hearts are hardened in this sinful pride.
We are formed in our mother’s womb. Not only is each and every person willed by God, each and every person is lovingly willed by God! Each person is valued by God. Each person is formed in the womb in love.
And we are called to be constant in safeguarding the dignity of every human life. The preeminent dignity of the child in the womb – the most innocent of life – the life of the poor, the life of the elderly, the life of the handicapped person, the life of the refugee and the immigrant, the life of the person in jail and on death row and … here is where the challenge of Jonah comes in … even the life of the person who disagrees with me. The life of the person whom I am tempted to see as the “other” and the enemy. Even the person who may mock me and my beliefs and who may see me as the “other” and the enemy – even that person we, as Christians, must strive to safeguard the dignity of. This is the challenge of Jonah and God does indeed call each of us to this conversion just as God calls each of us to do the work of promoting and defending the dignity of all human life.
God does not see as we see. God sees into the human heart yet God calls us – now graced in Christ – to begin to see as he sees. All persons are his children. Every life has dignity and worth. Avoid the pitfall of the hardened and embittered heart. Don’t succumb to the despair that nothing new is possible, that there can be no conversion.
In Christ, all things are possible!