40 days more and you will die! -Wednesday, 1st Week in Lent – Jonah 3:1-10/ Luke 11:29-32
What if the Holy Father, on Ash Wednesday revealed a message from God, ‘Forty days more and the world will be destroyed.’ I think that particular season of Lent would be one that nobody would have ever experienced before. Churches would be packed like sardines in a can, Zomato would go out of business, the fashion industry would take a hit and with it the travel industry, the stocks of ashes and sackcloth would soar and priests would be as exhausted as doctors and nurses were during covid; exhausted from the thousands of penitents who wanted to make sure every little sin, including the ones ‘they previously could not remember’ were confessed, now in the most ‘annoying’ detail.
The truth is, that for the large majority of Catholics, this is a season that no longer has any reason. Even the average Sunday-going catholic may just decide to give the essentials of this season a miss and flirt around the peripheries of a few Lenten disciplines. Yet, there is but one thing that is asked for this season which is repentance; the rest are just expressions of joy of being loved and forgiven. Yet the evidence is right before you; the confessionals are empty and stand on your head all you want in Lent, but you still won’t make it to the borders of the pearly gates.
Nineveh was told that they would be destroyed in forty days and they went nuts with their repentance. So, get this right, this was not some devout city of God; this was no Jerusalem. These were people who belonged to a bloodthirsty race. It was the Assyrians with their capital in Nineveh took the Northern Kingdom into exile in 721 BC; they took God’s chosen race and marched thousands from their homeland hooked to their mouths. This was prophesied by Amos in 4:2 and it came to pass.
To this hated nation, God decided to show his mercy and Jonah the prophet could not wrap his head around God’s ‘madness’. We are told in today’s text that the word of God came to Jonah a second time. This was a disobedient prophet who when sent on this mission the first time, attempted to take a slow boat to Tarshish and then preferred to be thrown into the sea than complete God’s mission. Now, we are told in 3:1 that this reluctant prophet ‘obeyed God.’ Did he?
The evidence from the text tells us he did not. So, why was Jonah so mulish? While Jonah admits in 4:2 that he knew that God at his core was merciful and he would forgive the enemies of Jonah’s people if they repented, he perhaps was not ready to accept that his ego too had taken a beating. The only source outside the book of Jonah that tells us about this prophet is 2 Kings 14:23-27. It tells us that Jonah prophesied to the Northern Kingdom a message of restoration and hope even when he knew the sinful patterns of abuse, injustice, and idolatry that his people lived in. He was a misplaced nationalist. Now, God had destroyed his people, and taken them away to exile and now his very God wanted to offer mercy to the enemy. God’s sense of humour should not be lost on us; he chose this misplaced nationalist, Jonah, to go to the very enemy to proclaim repentance.
Much to Jonah’s frustration Nineveh repented. Now let us not make this repentance seem to be lighthearted even though the narrative may seem lighthearted. It is odd to think of animals and flocks wearing sackcloth and ashes and hence easy to dismiss the most important part of this narrative. This was not a long fist-thumping homily of repentance that Jonah preached. Five words in Hebrew or eleven in the English language was all it took for true repentance to kick in. No one ate, there was no fancy dress, they prayed and they renounced evil and said “God only knows if he will relent.” At the end of all of this, a nation that did not know Yahweh took a chance on him and repented.
Let me draw this to a close. We are told in scripture that “God saw their effort to renounce their evil behaviour.” Did they change and grow angelic wings? I don’t think so! But they TRIED (words from scripture) and God saw how much they did and he RELENTED
Lesson learnt? If not…see you next lent!