Wednesday, March 12, 2014

“It was the Good Thief's last prayer, perhaps even his first. He knocked once, asked once, dared everything, and found everything.”

It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, "Wait on time.” ― Martin Luther King Jr., (A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches)

Scripture Text: (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.

What a great prophet! Here’s a man who journeys into the dark heart of a savage empire to proclaim a message that may well get him killed. He tackles his God-given assignment and gets incredible results. Courageous, selfless, obedient: that’s Jonah!

Just kidding.

That may be the Jonah of chapter 3. But if you look at the other three chapters of the Book of Jonah, you’ll discover that our “hero” is not really all that heroic. He runs away from God’s first call to Nineveh; he puts others at risk to save his own skin; he’s unmerciful, self-pitying, and angry (Jonah 1:3, 7; 4:1-3, 9). As the story ends, Jonah sits sulking while God patiently reasons with him.

Reading this passage, I too can imagine fleeing a prophetic call as Jonah did. Fleeing, pouting and cursing life are all very human reactions to a greater call to be in deeper community with God and with one another.

Jonah’s full portrait is not a pretty picture! But whose is? We all have our unseemly moments of rebelling against God’s plan or sinking into self-absorption. In fact, as we give more attention to prayer this Lent, we may see areas where we’re being called to be less like Jonah and more like Jesus. As we do, we can find at least two encouraging messages in Jonah’s story.

First: Just because you have faults and failings doesn’t mean God can’t work through you.

Second: The work God gives you to do for the good of others is for your good to.

A week ago, on Ash Wednesday, we covered ourselves in ashes and heard individually the words of Jesus' first homily, «Repent and believe in the Gospel» (cf. Mk 1:15). The question for us is: Have we responded yet with deep conversion like the Ninevites and embraced that Gospel?

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