Wednesday of the First Week in Lent
By Colleen O’Sullivan
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 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. (Jonah 3:3-5, 10)
My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn. (Psalm 51:19)
While still more people gathered in the crowd, Jesus said to them, “This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah. Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. At the judgment the queen of the south will rise with the men of this generation and she will condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and there is something greater than Solomon here. At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because at the preaching of Jonah they repented, and there is something greater than Jonah here.” (Luke 11:29-32)
Have mercy on us, Lord, for we have sinned.
When I was young, I was quite enamored of fairy tales. I remember stories of ordinary young men trying by virtue of heroic feats to win some king’s daughter in marriage. The king would set them some nearly impossible task and promise them his daughter’s hand in marriage if they were successful. Overcoming dreadful odds, the young men would return triumphant only to find that the king had set the bar higher and they had some other onerous mission to accomplish. This would go on for quite a while.
I was reminded of this as I was reading the Gospel for today. Just how many miracles and signs would it take before Jesus would triumph and the crowd would repent and believe? Jesus was no fool. He had already performed many miracles and given many signs. He wasn’t interested in playing games. He knew that there were many in the crowd who would never believe no matter what he said or did, so he put a halt to the sign and magic seeking. He declared that the sign of Jonah was all they would be given.
Jonah was the reluctant prophet sent to Israel’s enemy, Nineveh, to tell the city’s inhabitants they had 40 days to repent and change their ways before their city would be destroyed. To Jonah’s utter amazement, these Gentiles heeded his word. They showed remorse for their sinful ways. To Jonah’s disgust, God, in his all-encompassing mercy and compassion, saw their sorrow and forgave them.
The sign of Jonah, the call to repentance, was now embodied in Jesus himself, someone far greater than Jonah. The Lord, knowing that many of his own people would never accept him, let alone show sorrow for their sins, warned the crowds that at the final judgment, they might be surprised at who is with God.
Lent is a time for taking honest inventory of ourselves. I like to think of God as the father in the parable of the prodigal son. Where in my life have I taken the overwhelming love God has for me and wasted it in sin far from the loving arms of my Father? Where in my life am I like the elder brother (or Jonah), oblivious to God’s ever-present care and compassion, jealous of the mercy and forgiveness shown to others? I am exceedingly grateful that when I own up to who I am and the ways in which I have separated myself from God, the Father is right there, waiting with open arms to welcome me back.
Spend some time today in the presence of the Lord taking inventory. Rest assured that the moment you confess and are contrite for your sins, God will beam with joy, reach out for you, and celebrate your return.