"The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now One greater than Jonah is here." (Mt 12:41)
The people of Nineveh were pagans who had absolutely no exposure to God, His Word, or any of the things of God. And yet, when the prophet Jonah preached the Word of God to them, warning them that destruction would take place in forty days if they did not repent, they immediately responded. A fast was declared. All of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth and cried out to the God of Israel. When news of the impending judgment reached the king of Nineveh, he cast off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat down in the dust. He then issued a proclamation that neither man nor beast could taste anything. They were to have nothing to eat or drink. Every man and beast was to be covered with sackcloth. The king then ordered that every man, woman, and child was to call urgently on God and give up their evil ways and their violence.
Notice the response of the people to Jonah's preaching. They didn't just hear it, clap their hands, and say, "Brother, that was deep!" They acted on it. As a result, God had compassion on them and did not bring upon them the destruction that He had decreed.
Now, here was Jesus, the eternal Son of the Living God, preaching to the people of Israel, anointed mightily by God, yet getting no response. Signs, miracles, and wonders were taking place left and right in Israel's cities, towns, and villages, yet the people refused to repent.
In fact, at one point in Jesus' ministry, He denounced some of the cities in Israel in which most of His miracles had been performed because the people did not repent. "Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down into Hades. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you." (Mt. 11:20-24).
The point that Jesus is trying to get across to us is this: To whom much has been given, much more will be required. Those who have had exposure to the Word of God and His many gifts and graces will be judged much more severely than those who have not been exposed to these things.
God is looking for repentance. When we read the Bible, God expects us to act on what we read. When we hear the Word of God being proclaimed at Mass, the Lord expects us to act on what we hear. We don't go to Mass simply to listen to the Word. It is required that we then go out and put into practice that which has been proclaimed.
Several weeks ago at Mass, one of the priests of our parish was speaking about his grandmother during his homily. His grandmother did not know how to read, yet she wanted to live according to the Word of God. She wanted to know how God expected her to live. She would go to Mass every day in order to hear the Word of God. Sometimes, she would attend all three daily Masses. She didn't know how to read, but she listened intently to the readings. She absorbed what she heard. Most of all, she put into practice what she was listening to. This priest declared that his grandmother, a simple woman who didn't know how to read a single word, was one of the godliest people he had ever known. She lived the Word. She heard it and made it her chief focus in life to put it into practice.
How do we respond when we go to Mass and listen to the readings being proclaimed? Each week at Mass we are exposed to a reading from the Old Testament, from the New Testament, and then from the Gospel. We then listen to a homily. How do we respond? Do we repent? Do we examine our lives to see if they are lining up with what we see and hear in the Word of God or do we simply sit and listen with indifference?
One of my passions in life is to teach and inspire Catholics to study the Word of God on their own in their daily lives. Too many Catholics do not take the time to read God's Word on their own. Yet, without knowledge of that Word, how can we be properly discipled?
Jesus isn't looking for pew warmers, brothers and sisters. He's looking for disciples, people who will read and listen to His Word and then act on it. He is looking for genuine repentance. The people of Israel were being exposed to some of the most awesome miracles, yet, they refused to repent. They were listening to Jesus' anointed teachings, and proclaiming, "No one ever spoke like this man does," yet, they refused to repent.
The Holy Bible is our instructional manual. It teaches us how our Heavenly Father wants us to live. Whether we hear the Word being preached at Mass, or if we are simply sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and an open Bible before us, God expects us to act on that Word.
The pagans of Nineveh heard the Word of God being preached and repented. The question we need to ask ourselves is this: How do I respond to the Word of God? Is my life lining up with it? Am I truly putting into practice that which the Master has taught?
I want to encourage you to take time each and every single day to read the Bible. Even if you just spend time meditating on a few verses, absorb those verses. Listen, really listen, to what the Spirit is saying to you through the words that you are reading. If you know that your life is not lining up with what you see before you in the written Word, repent. This is what your Heavenly Father is looking for. This is why He has given us His Word. He wants us to read it and to repent so that our lives will line up with it. If all we do is listen to the Word or read the Word without repenting and putting it into practice in our lives, what have we gained? How are we unlike the Pharisees and teachers of the Law who studied the Scriptures daily, yet were condemned by God, because of their refusal to put those Scriptures into practice?
No matter how much we may love the Lord, it is very easy to become careless and negligent in our relationship with Him. It happens to all of us sooner or later. We grow cold in our devotion and commitment to Him. This happens because we live in a world that is filled with many distractions. Usually, whenever this happens to me, it's always because I start slacking off in daily prayer and Bible reading.
Too many people call themselves Christians, yet, they do not follow the teachings of the Christ. They are guilty of the sin of hypocrisy. Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will obey Me." I do love Him. I want to obey Him. Therefore, I need to take the time to read and absorb all that He teaches to ensure that I am putting it all into practice. This is what it means to be a follower of the Christ.
The pagan population of Nineveh back in Jonah's day had no exposure to the things of God or to His Word. And yet, when they heard it preached for the very first time, they repented. Many of us have been exposed to the teachings of God's Word at Mass from the time we were little children. Week after week, we've heard the Word of God proclaimed. We know all the famous Bible stories and the parables of Christ. We've listened to the epistles of Peter, Paul, John, and Jude being proclaimed at Mass. We've been exposed to the writings of the Prophets as well as the teachings of the Gospel. Have we repented? Are our lives lining up with what we have heard?
Have we repented at the preaching of God's Word? Are our lives being genuinely transformed as a result of our exposure to the Word or will be people of Nineveh stand up at the judgment and condemn us as well?
He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
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