Wednesday, March 16, 2011

“When prodigals return great things are done”

"God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination." — St Augustine

(Jon 3:1-10) The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time:
“Set out for the great city of Nineveh ,
and announce to it the message that I will tell you.”
So Jonah made ready and went to Nineveh ,
according to the LORD’s bidding.
Now Nineveh was an enormously large city;
it took three days to go through it.
Jonah began his journey through the city,
and had gone but a single day’s walk announcing,
“Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed,”
when the people of Nineveh believed God;
they proclaimed a fast
and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth.

When the news reached the king of Nineveh ,
he rose from his throne, laid aside his robe,
covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in the ashes.
Then he had this proclaimed throughout Nineveh ,
by decree of the king and his nobles:
“Neither man nor beast, neither cattle nor sheep,
shall taste anything;
they shall not eat, nor shall they drink water.
Man and beast shall be covered with sackcloth and call loudly to God;
every man shall turn from his evil way
and from the violence he has in hand.
Who knows, God may relent and forgive, and withhold his blazing wrath,
so that we shall not perish.”
When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way,
he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them;
he did not carry it out.

“The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time ….” (Jonah 3:1). The first time the word of the LORD came to Jonah, he tried to run away. Of course, that ended badly, as he ended up in the soup – almost in a fish soup, actually! But God did not give up on Jonah; He sends his word again, giving Jonah a second chance. I like having second chances, don’t you?

If we keep reading, we find that the people and the king of Nineveh not only listened, but repented. To their credit, they did not need to be told twice. Sadly, we learn later in the book that Jonah is not pleased with this development. I have always found this story to be delightful and even humorous at times, as Jonah provides a mirror in which we can see ourselves and our weaknesses. Why is it so hard for us to give others a second chance, even though we like to be on the receiving end?

We all have blind spots. Sometimes we are just not sufficiently cognizant of our own faults and we make a mistake by being too hard on others for theirs. We may be right about those faults, but remember we all need mercy. As the Psalmist explains, “A heart contrite and humbled, O Lord, you will not spurn.” The people of Nineveh surely demonstrated this truth. May God give us this kind of heart attitude, which allows us not only to receive mercy ourselves, but also to delight in mercy for others.

Like Jonah, we are also limited in our capacity to see the big picture. Consternation and discouragement may follow when things don’t seem to go our way. Sometimes other people behave badly and they disappoint us. The hurt is real, and as humans it is not easy to get beyond it. With the lens of faith, we can sometimes discern that God’s purposes are somehow being accomplished even when things don’t go our way. It is just difficult to see this in the fog of our frustration. We need time and distance – sometimes lots of it. Query how Jonah’s outlook might have changed if he had known that his preaching would become part of an object lesson used by the Lord, as reflected in today’s gospel?

Today’s Gospel (Luke 11:29-32) contains a stern warning. Jesus does not mince words with these folks who have the light of truth in their midst, but who do not pay attention to the light they have. In our modern times, this also seems to be the case. New threats to marriage and the family, to the value of life, and to human dignity have emerged, to name a few. Cultures that have benefitted from the presence of light are now not only ignoring it, but are seeking to suppress it. The Gospel is reminding us that we who have light in our midst need to be especially vigilant about living faithfully. May God grant to each of us discernment and courage to be bearers of the light of Christ.


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