Once the rhythm and blues song, “I Hear You Knocking” started to play, it was hard to sit still. The seductive syncopation of the melody and the gyrations of the singer, Fats Domino, brought even the most reluctant of us to the dance floor. It was the seventies, the era of the Twist, and we were anticipating finding “our thrill on Blueberry Hill.”
“You went away and left me long time ago,
Now you come back knocking on my door.
I hear you knocking, but you can’t come in.”
At the heart of the song, forgiveness and reconciliation are sought; however, the “hardness of heart” due to abandonment makes it difficult to “open the door.”
Late night television offered me a chance to buy all the favorite songs of the sixties and seventies. While the temptation lingered and the strains of “I hear you knocking” filled my ears, I received a call from the hospital. A ninety-four-year-old man was actively dying, and his family wanted him to receive “The Last Rites.” Momentarily, I thought, “I hear you knocking, but you can’t come in.” I had been to the hospital earlier in the day to baptize and anoint a child who had been born prematurely and died. The grief of the young couple still gripped my heart and I was hesitant to answer one more call. Returning home around midnight, “another knock on the door” had me on my way to a hospital in St. Paul and another death. I remember thinking, at what point do I stop “answering the knock on the door?”
Ministry and the call to discipleship carry the demands of ordinary life, even during extraordinary challenges. Having been ordained in 1970, I have had my share of “knocks on the door.” At times, I have grown ambivalent about answering the knocks at the door, but I have never tried to evade the inconvenient calls of ministry. Opening the door to ministry is not unlike any parent’s care for their children or a firefighter’s response to a call. You just do it.
I recall the story of the young monk who was lecturing on St. Benedict’s admonition that anyone who knocks on the door of the monastery must be regarded as Jesus Christ. Having been interrupted several times with knocks at the door, the monk, in exasperation at another knock blurted out, “O Jesus, not you again!” I am thankful for the call to discipleship and the demands of parish ministry, even when I am grumbling about “answering the knock on the door,” and regardless of the hour.
In the current chaos of American politics, it’s hard to figure out whether we should be locking the door or putting metal detectors in place. We are a divided nation, that no longer values the art
of compromise. When we no longer agree on the truth of reality, polarization sets in, often accompanied by a paralysis of analysis. The unwillingness to care for the Common Good quickly reduces community service to self-service and narcissistic thinking. Hardly what Jesus had in mind when he said: “Love one another.”
Entering the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, we are confronted with the call to discipleship and the truth of the Gospel. Whether it’s the story of Jonah (3:1-5), the reluctant prophet, or Paul’s strident advice to the Corinthians (7:29-31) to get their act together or Jesus’ abrupt call to four disciples, they resonate with the announcement: “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Good News.”
The call to truth and discipleship can threaten our perceived selfish agendas. Answering the “knock on the door” can be life changing. The call to discipleship demands an awareness that the “Kingdom of God is at hand.” The call to discipleship demands an adherence to the truthful reality of the Gospel, even in our moments of doubt. Confronting truth to power demands a willingness to open oneself to conflict.
In today’s liturgy, the Prophet Jonah (3:1-10) is commanded by God: “Get up, go to Nineveh, the great city, and proclaim to it the message I tell you.” Jonah, the reluctant prophet, is given another chance by God to move beyond fear and doubt. While many biblical scholars view the Book of Jonah as a prophetic parable rather than an historical account, the teaching component proves to be a “whale of a tale.” The call for repentance from sin becomes a consistent theological theme in both the Hebraic and Christian
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (7:29-31), the eschatological theme of “end time” puts his listeners on “high alert.” Paul warns them that: “The appointed time has grown short; for the present form of this world is passing away.” Paul’s preaching provided practical difficulties for people while waiting for Jesus’ Second Coming. Given the fact that we are still waiting after two thousand years, it’s understandable that his disciples drifted off, reverting to old sinful behaviors.
In the gospel of Mark (1:14-20), Jesus officially pronounces his ministry and begins his recruitment of disciples. His basic messianic message: “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the good news.” The familiar refrain of penance and forgiveness encapsulates Jesus’ ministry and become the points of engagement for discipleship. The calling of his first disciples, Peter, Andrew, James, and John, is electrifying to those called and mystifying to those who are left behind. The call to discipleship is a surprise and a signal that Jesus would need help in proclaiming his mission.
While our personal call to discipleship may not reflect the drama of the early disciples, the cost of discipleship remains the same. It’s an all or nothing invitation. Recognizing the reality of “relapses, doubts and denials,” the invitation to “second chances” remains a part of the mercy of God and the joy of discipleship. Jonah, Paul, Peter, James, Andrew, and John, not to mention all the other disciples, would be given a second chance.
Perhaps this willingness on the part of Jesus to offer forgiveness is the hallmark of discipleship. Being willing to hear the “knocking on the door” is an important part of ministry. However, the willingness to open the door and offer second chances is the miracle of ministry. Moving beyond a sense of rejection and hurt, all of us, whether disciples of Jesus or not, must be willing to hear the knocking at the door and to be open to the reality before us.
Maybe we can take the liberty, even in a litigious and violent society, to change the lyrics of Fats Domino’s song, “I Hear You Knocking, But You Can’t Come In,” to include a willingness to forgive and open the door:
“You went away and left me a long time ago,
and now you come back knocking on my door.
I hear you knocking, and you CAN come in.”
Peace, Fr. Joe Gillespie, O.P.