This reflection was taken from the Sunday Mass Readings of Jan. 25, 2015:
“Then [Jesus] began to reproach the towns where most of his mighty deeds had been done, since they had not repented. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And as for you, Capernaum: “Will you be exalted to heaven? You will go down to the netherworld.” For if the mighty deeds done it your midst had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you’” (Mt 11:20-24).
This passage from the Gospel of Matthew speaks of a point which was–in part–demonstrated in today’s readings.
First of all, we see Jonah preaching repentance to the large town of Nineveh. The action taken by the Ninevites is a perfect example of what Jesus was predicting of other ancient cities in the passage above: “Jonah…had gone but a single day’s walk announcing, ‘Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed,’ when the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth” (Jon 3:4-5).
At the end of the readings, in the Gospel, we see Jesus Himself proclaiming a similar message: “Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel’” (Mk 1:14-15).
These three passages convey a strong message for us today, which can be made into a question: are we Sodomites, Ninevites, or Capernaumites?
At a glance, you would think we were Sodomites, given how rampantly “acceptable” sins of that sort have become. However, we are not Sodomites; unlike us, the Sodomites were unaware of the gravity of their sin. They, unlike us, had not witnessed the mighty deeds of Jesus, the prophets, the visionaries, and the martyrs; according to God’s own Word, they are less culpable of their sins than we our of ours. I understand this both from the first passage I quoted, and also from Numbers 15:22-29, in which God–through Moses–instructs the Israelites on the different purification procedures to be taken in the case of an inadvertent sin, as opposed to an intentional one.
Are we Ninevites, then? Most of us would be kidding ourselves at best if we tried to tell ourselves that. Repentance such as what they showed in today’s first reading requires a change of heart, and a turning away from sin. Sure, some people take the hint and make an effort to do that; but if we’re talking about communities as a whole here–Sodom, Nineveh, Capernaum, America–then, in general, we’re not looking so good for the day of judgment.
We fit in far better with the Capernaumites and the Chorazinites and the Bethsaidites. We are warned, time and time again–by Popes and Bishops, by modern miracles God has granted us, and by the timelessness of the Bible itself–to turn away from our evil deeds, to repent and follow the path of righteousness. As a whole, do we heed these warnings?
Let’s see: we legalize murder in various forms; we legalize adultery in various forms; we elect hypocrites to be our leaders; and a great number of us “Christians” don’t know or care for Sacred Scripture and Tradition any more than we do the gum stuck to our shoes, and spend no real time whatsoever contemplating it or applying it to our everyday lives.
Now I know that not everyone is going to agree with me on the definitions of “murder” and “adultery,” and to what sorts of actions those terms apply. That is not the problem; the problem arises when they disagree with the Holy Spirit speaking through Christ’s Church, by means of the direct successors of the Apostles, upon whom was bestowed the guidance of that same Holy Spirit at Pentecost. I try to agree with them in all things; and I understand that, even if I didn’t agree, I could not expect myself to know better than two thousand years of knowledge and wisdom stored up by the Catholic Church. With something like that made available to us, it is much better to try and see where they’re coming from, instead of assuming that we’re right and they’re wrong because there’s a disagreement.
Instead of smiling, nodding, and glazing over when we hear or read that we need to repent (as apparently the Capernaumites did), we need to act on it (in keeping with the example given by the Ninevites). We need to stop and think about just how important the decision to repent is: how the decision will affect us, how it will affect others…and how its effects will last for eternity.
“A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house”–Jesus (Mk 6:4). Many people claim to be Christian, saying that Christ is welcome and that He has a place in their hearts…yet in how many of these hearts in which He has been asked to take up residence is Christ really given the honor and respect He is due? They claim Him as their own, yet they reject His teachings
by Cameron Daly