Once upon a time, a New York taxi driver who served as a storefront preacher on Sundays, ran up and down the street in front of his church. He shouted, “Fire! Fire!” The crowd asked him, “Where is the fire?” He replied, “The fire is in my bones. I can’t wait to get it out.” That story reminds me of the man who said, “I like to see the preacher get something out of it, too.”
In our first reading today we hear God calling Jonah to go through the streets of the pagan city of Niniveh and shout out, “Forty days more and Niniveh will be destroyed.” Jonah did not like being a missionary. He resisted it. He did not enjoy proclaiming the faith. But he obeyed God and noted the people submitted to God’s message. The people believed God and repented their sins. So God spared them.
American Catholics may be reluctant missionaries like Jonah. Yet his mission succeeded through the power of God. He saw the wisdom of God’s power to convert people’s hearts. Today’s Catholics can do the same as well. Why not reach out and share the riches of the oldest Christian Church in history? Why not welcome home the millions of alienated Catholics who form the second largest church in America? Is not our treasure worth sharing?
Today we hear that Jesus picked and trained men who would be his disciples as well as missionaries to their people. He started by picking two sets of brothers, Peter and Andrew, James and John. Jesus simply called them to follow him and they did. Mark’s Gospel does not comment on their possible resistance. Nothing is said about the impracticality of leaving the family fishing business. No remark is made about some inner doubt about the credibility of Jesus. It was a quick and clean encounter. Jesus calls. They respond. Love attracted love.
When we first hear these words about how Jesus recruited disciples and trained them to be missionaries, we need to understand what is going on. The human words of Jesus reached their ears. But because he is the Word made flesh, his words can speak directly to their hearts.
The same process is going on at our Mass. The lector reads the Scripture and the words reach our ears. But Scripture is God’s words by which he reaches inside us and touches our hearts with an unexpected love. When we are fired up with divine love, we don’t need to be argued into following Christ. We simply can’t help ourselves. We will want to be his disciples. And when we do that we will hunger for souls for Christ. We will imitate the father of the prodigal son. His door was always open for his boy. When we let Jesus grasp our hearts, our missionary life begins. Our door will always welcome those who need the incredible gift we received.
Norbertine Fr. McBride is a popular lecturer and author of more than 40 books.