Mr. Webster tells us that the word “bidding” means a demand that something be done, a request to appear, a summons. These are just a bunch of words until the reality strikes as it did for Jonah, St. Paul, and the apostles of the Lord.
Today we read: “So Jonah made ready and went to Nineveh, according to the Lord’s bidding.” Nor was this an easy demand placed upon Jonah. His message was one announcing destruction and demanding repentance. This does not tend to lead to popularity. However, the people of Nineveh listened, repented and avoided the impending ruin of their city.
What Jonah did was obey. His will was centered on God’s design and when the bidding came, he went. In our culture, one that prizes autonomy, self-reliance, and independence, being called to do the will of another, even that of God, is rather abhorrent. For Jonah this meant being true to his identity as a prophet of the Lord.
Many biddings are taking place in the Gospel: Jesus ventures forth to proclaim the kingdom and reformation at the request of his Father; Simon and Andrew hear the bidding “Come after me” and off they go to be fishers of men and women; James and John do the same, responding to the summons on the spot. One gets the impression that religious life is all about listening and responding, being called and offering one’s obedience. If true in the early church, it is certainly true of our times as well. God’s biddings go out daily and the question haunts us: Do we hear and do we respond?
A prime example of discipleship, of one who responded completely to God’s biddings was St. Paul. Once he encountered the risen Lord the whole center of his life changed. When reading the writings of St. Paul there is also a sense of urgency, a sense that the time is short and we must not delay in responding to what God asks of us. The warning — “Tomorrow may be too late”— deserves our deep respect. High priority must be given to God’s promptings.
With so many voices seeking our attention, with so many demands that arise from daily life, we might despair of knowing how to respond to life’s circumstances, much less sort out how God moves in our daily life. Complex as this may be, we are not at liberty to neglect the challenge of discerning the biddings of God. Those biddings come through sacraments and scriptures, through the experiences of everyday life as well as through the inner movements of the heart. The key in knowing what is or is not of God is a sense of peace and joy that indicates the presence of the Spirit.
Though Jonah had a difficult assignment, though Simon and Andrew, James and John had to leave one way of life for another, though St. Paul had to eat humble pie, we sense that in their saying “yes” to God they came to a deeper inner peace and abiding joy. There is no other road to these graces — peace and joy — than that of obedience, which leads to freedom.
Just as God bids us to come and follow the Lord Jesus, we too bid God to “Teach me your ways O Lord.” This responsorial refrain might be an excellent mantra for the entire week. God is our teacher and it is God’s ways that we desire to know—the ways of compassion, forgiveness, and love. That is why repentance and reformation are so necessary. We keep drifting from “the way,” we keep forgetting the lessons that the Gospel so clearly proclaims. “Lord, do teach us your ways.”
(Bishop Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese and pastor of Resurrection Parish in Allouez.)
Questions for Reflection
1. How does the Lord bid you to serve?
2. Do you find the words “obedience” and “submission” meaningful?
3. How does the Lord teach you his ways?