God picks unusual people to be prophets. When you look at television and read newspapers these days you are confronted with many people who believe they are prophets. They also believe we should follow their way. I made the mistake of turning on the presidential debate on Thursday. This one was especially vitriolic and aggressive. Each person had ideas of the way the people are supposed to act. Later, I turned on another program and the other political party had unkind words and ideas about how the politicians in the country are supposed to act. I am not saying that politicians are prophets. But if you did not know they are connected to a political party, they seem to know all of the answers. They even can make you feel, at times, that God is backing them and their ideas.
Today's first reading tells a story about Jonah being asked by God to go to Nineveh to ask the people to repent. It was a place that was known for its violence and sinful behavior. Jonah went to Nineveh with the attitude that he would comply with God's request but that inwardly he hoped the people would not comply with his preaching to repent. He thought that it would be right that God would strike them down dead because of their wicked ways. Jonah preached repentance and forgiveness to the people of Nineveh. Astonishment overtook Jonah because the people heard his word and did repent from their evil ways. They called for a fast and put on the traditional sack cloth as a sign they were asking for forgiveness. Everyone, from the King to the lowest of the people in society begged and asked for divine forgiveness.
God heard the people and forgave all in the city because of God's great love for them. Jonah left the city and was angry that God forgave the people because he thought they did not deserve it. God chastised Jonah because of vindictiveness. Forgiveness and mercy are what God wants for his kindom to be fruitful and full of grace.
I was looking for a similar story of a prophet in our own time who asked us to radically change our ways and to increase the fullness of the kindom. Martin Luther King contributed more to bringing hope to our nation than we can possibly imagine. Dr. King was a prophet to our nation. He would not tell you he was a prophet. He would tell you that he spoke words given to him by God. This pacifist led marches and demonstrations that were non-violent and peaceful. He called for radical change in the way we treated our brothers and sisters. If you remember the newscasts from that time it was the police and bystanders that besieged him with rocks, fire hoses, beatings and arrest. This prophet, Dr. King, was not recognized as a messenger of God when asking us to change. He was called names and threatened with death. He was not accepted by millions of people when he called for the United States to repent and change their actions. He chose the way of Jesus which is truth and non-violence.
"We must say to our white brothers and sisters all over the South who try to
keep us down: 'We will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our
capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with spirit
force. We will not hate you and yet we cannot in all good conscience obey
your evil laws. Do to us what you will. Threaten our children and we will still
love you. Bomb our homes. Go by our churches early in the morning and
bomb them, if you please. And we will still love you. We will wear you down
by our capacity to suffer and, winning the victory, we will not only win our
freedom , we will so appeal to your hearts and your consciences that we will
win you in the process,." Martin Luther King
This prophet, Dr. King , obeyed God's word and called us to repentance with his actions and then his death. We, too, are called to speak the words of repentance to the people in our lives when necessary knowing that God will give us the words to say. We are responsible for the growth of the Kindom of God.
In the Gospel reading Jesus was preaching that the Kindom of God is at hand. Jesus asked his followers to repent, to believe in the Gospel and to follow him. Four of his apostles, Simon, Andrew, James, and John, left their fishing boats immediately and followed after Jesus. This is a jarring thought that these men left what they were doing, left their way of life, and left their families to follow Jesus. I do not think I could do that. After thinking about it for some time I think that Jesus was not asking literally for the apostles to leave everything. Perhaps he was asking them to change their attitude about what was important. Have we been doing as much as we can to change the world? Have we been satisfied with the status quo and have not been eager to change some behavior we have or have not been doing because it take more energy?
Bishop Tom Gumbleton has some thoughts that make sense. He said that "we have to let go of some of our mindsets, some of our excessive trust in material things, some of our conviction that we can't resolve conflict except through violence...The reign of God will happen and it is guaranteed that it will happen within my heart, your heart, any of us, once we are ready to let go and be changed-change the direction of our lives."
Surely each of us can let go of some attitude and/or behavior that is detrimental to the Kindom of God. We can start slowly and quietly. We do not have to speak to anyone about it. This Kindom of God is vibrant, alive, spirit filled, and wise. When we change for the betterment of the Kindom and ourselves things change for the positive. Good things happen. Violence is lessened. People's burdens are lifted. People are given hope.
I applaud the people who continuously make inner changes to improve their lives. They continue to grow and change and be aware of circumstances that can be improved. No one knows what the majority of people in this church are doing to change their mindsets to more completely conform to Gospel teachings. God knows and loves the person for trying.
I also applaud the people who are trying to make changes in society. These are the people that are sometimes laughed at or made fun of. I know a priest who is active in the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York. She is very sincere and dedicated to work for many kinds of change in society. Gabriella counsels, preaches, and supports many people who are struggling. She is doing what God is calling her to do. Many of you in church may not like any of the Occupy Movements but I believe we all must respect the people who are involved if they are honest, non-violent, and prayerful. God calls each of us differently to expand our knowledge and scope of the Kindom of God.
God is willing and eager to give us ideas of what more we can do to make the lives of people easier, healthy, and productive. Today's Gospel asks us to change our ideas and notions about what we can do to make lives better. Listen and follow this teaching of Jesus:
"The Kindom of God is at hand!".