All three readings of the day talk about repentance, which is a channel for God’s blessings and graces.

In the First Reading (Jon 3: 1-5, 10), the vicious city of Nineveh changed its ways, following Jonah’s teaching, and was saved; and in the Gospel (Mk 1: 14-20), Jesus asks his people to ‘repent, and believe in the Gospel’ in order to be saved. Something there surely is that doesn’t love a hardened heart and calls us to compassion!

Jonah is a prophet best remembered for spending three days in the belly of a large fish. Another memorable passage is the prophet’s preaching: ‘Forty days, and Nineveh will be destroyed.’

Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, an aggressor country that the Israelites dubbed unjust and cruel. And therein lies the paradox of the narrative: God sends His prophet to an enemy country!

But all is well that ends well, for despite the prophet’s many subterfuges, he ends up in Nineveh and preaching there. As a result, upon taking God’s message seriously, the city was saved; and Jonah, too, whom God reproached, finally experienced His mercy and love.

So, it is not the belly adventure, if at all, that matters but the fact that God reaches out to everyone. The city dimensions are grossly inaccurate (the city, whose walls had a perimeter of twelve km only, was not very large) but that hardly matters. The crux of the message is that salvation is open to all – even to those who at first might oppose Him; all they must do is repent for their folly and acknowledge His kingdom.

That is also the essence of the Gospel. Jesus said: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the Gospel.’ The Gospel is none other than the Good News as announced by Jesus Christ, and its proclamation; repentance, nothing but a genuine change of heart.

Jesus uttered those words as He entered Galilee after John’s arrest. He knew that John’s end had come and that He had to begin His own mission. It was indeed a relay, for Jesus left behind the quiet life of Nazareth and went out to proclaim the Kingdom of God as the Precursor had done… It was also a replay, for Jesus knew full well that a similar fate awaited Him. King Herod had detested John’s prophetic witness: how would he ever come to love Jesus’ testimony? Moreover, Jesus not only called people to repentance but also to faith in God.

But that is not all. ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men,’ Jesus promised Simon and Andrew. This momentous assurance is a call to you and me as well. And we are told that ‘immediately they left their nets and followed Him.’ Now, what about you and me?

We often get entangled in our worldly nets, in our worldwide web, finding it embarrassing to even acknowledge, let alone proclaim, Jesus. We are concerned instead about what our neighbour will think of us, how mentally feeble and foolish they would regard us, if drawn into such ‘fantasies’….

True Christians, on the other hand, consider that fantasies are in fact the stuff of the secular world! St Paul in the Second Reading (1 Cor 7: 29-31) is unequivocal: ‘The form of this world is passing away.’ So, we ought to give up all that we cling to, repent for our wrong actions, and earnestly seek the Lord our God. After all, He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Repentance, then, would make a world of a difference; it would change everything.

The Apostle adds: ‘The appointed time has grown very short’. This is a reference to the time between the first and the second Coming of Christ. Are we ready to keep our eyes trained on Him? The renunciation of matrimony, mourning, or even rejoicing would be only symbols of our dedication to the Lord’s service, and repentance an essential qualification to enter the kingdom of God.