A Need to Repent

Reflection on the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (January 22)

By Greg Swiderski

The readings for this Sunday:

Jonah 3:1-10
Psalm 25:4-9
I Corinthians 7:29-31
Mark 1:14-20

The full text of the readings can be found here.

Do you ever feel threatened by the divine and sacred? Do you ever consider that the Holy of Holies could repent?

Jonah does in 3:10. The New American Bible puts it this way: "he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them."; the Jewish Study Bible: "God renounced the punishment He had planned to bring upon them."

Does this seem strange? A violent deity? A repenting Lord?

Well, yes and no...We have been reading from the Samuel stories during the daily liturgies. In what we call Chapter 15 we read 8 times about the ban imposed upon the victims or enemies of Israel: "you shall put to death man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and donkey." (I Samuel 15:3) Then at the end of this chapter Samuel cuts apart Agag, the leader of the opposing tribe "before the Lord at Gilgal." This is the same youngster whose call story we hear last week; he seems so warm and appealing. Several chapters later he's a murderous warrior. Imagine slaying your perceived enemy in front of the tabernacle!

We might dismiss this as an ancient story. Yet, these texts have been used and are still used by people who want to demonize others and evoke divine power to support their violent, heinous actions. As the pope who decreed the Crusades yelled: God wills it!

We read this week and last week's "call stories" and find them engaging. What calls us to a bigger picture, a higher purpose? These seem noble and uplifting sentiments.

Yet, we must also discern, examine, and explore what is really happening. This process asks us to be radically honest as the levels of information, emotions, and motivations are peeled back. Fortunately, we can find others to help us. Unfortunately, we learn best by our mistakes; at times, the failed marriage or the unfulfilling profession may really challenge us.

Perhaps the most helpful and hopeful part of this passage from Jonah is the announcement that even the divine and sacred needs to repent.