Tuesday, March 11, 2014


By Colleen O’Sullivan
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”…  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 3:1-2, 4-5, 10)
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 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 11:29-30, 32)

Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me.
(Psalm 51:3-4)

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus addresses a growing crowd.  He starts off by saying, “This generation is an evil generation.”  We nod our heads.  Yes, the world has never been in such terrible shape, we agree.  Visions of terrorist threats, wars, abuse of drugs and alcohol, etc., dance through our heads.  We all have a list.  The funny thing is that most of the items on our lists are things that other people are responsible for, and that’s exactly what Jesus is getting at. 

Maybe we should forget about pointing fingers at others.  Perhaps we should let go of the moral superiority of our “inner Pharisee.” Jesus is asking each of us to search our hearts for our part in the evil of our time.  When Jesus talks about the sign of Jonah, he’s referring to the invitation to examine ourselves honestly, to repent of our sins, and to experience God’s mercy and forgiveness.  If the Ninevites, mortal enemies of the people of Israel and non-believers in the God of Israel, could forsake their evil ways on the say-so of Jonah, we who have experienced firsthand the love and forgiveness of God in Christ can look deep within and work to root out what is not of God.

There are many ways to reflect on and acknowledge the sinfulness that is part of each of our lives.  There are examinations of conscience centered on the Ten Commandments.  There is the Ignatian Daily Examen, where we search back through our day.  (For a good description, click on http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen/rummaging-for-god-praying-backward-through-your-day/.)  

We could even make a list of what we think is wrong with the world and work through it, with an eye to our part in it.  Terrorism, for example, would be high on my list.  Terrorists hurt and kill others.  We may not be members of any terrorist group, but how often we hurt people and cause little deaths with sharp or angry words.  The world can only be changed one heart at a time, so why not start with ours?

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