One key word is “call”; the other is “response.” Sometimes God will call individuals, as he does in our Gospel story (Mark 1:14-20). Peter, Andrew, James and John were each “called” – meaning they were invited to follow Jesus and learn from him. They responded immediately to that call, leaving behind their “old way” of life without Jesus, to embark on a “new way” of life with Jesus, but not knowing what is in front of them by and answering this call.
God can also issue a “call” to an entire city or nation. Through his usual prophetic method – as in this case the Prophet Jonah who calls the city of Nineveh to repent, to change its ways or face destruction (Jonah 3:1-5,10).
In the scripture story, the entire city responded by immediately repenting. They also demonstrated the change in their interior attitude by depriving themselves with a fast, and by humbling themselves by putting on sackcloth. Sackcloth was an extremely coarse and abrasive material, usually made out of goat’s hair in Old Testament times. (Today an equivalent would be the coarse hessian bags, made out of vegetable fibre.) Not only was sackcloth uncomfortable, it was intended to be an exterior sign of a person’s interior change of heart. It was a self-deprecating public display or admission of one’s sinfulness, especially the sin of pride.
Now we fast forward to you and me, today. Each one of us is being called individually by Jesus Christ, to follow him, learn from him, and become a true disciple. Then we are called to continue the mission of Jesus, passing on his truth, teachings and love. Our cities and nation are also called to repent. Public policies that are against truth, against life, and against love call for public repentance.
Bad legal policies have been established by our own chosen representatives, thus our country shares in the sinful and prideful behaviour of those politicians who have led us into a culture of death. Until the deadly self-inflicted blemishes of our society are removed, we will be headed to self-destruction just like the Ninevites.
We should not point the finger only at these people, for we are the ones who put them in office. Repent and act like a true disciple of Jesus, working for a culture of life, not death. Jesus gave us a share in his mission. Only his way is the way of Truth and Life. We must follow his way or self-destruct.