1st Week of Lent, Wednesday, Feb 24
Jonah 3:1-10 / Luke 11:29-32
People asked Jesus for a sign; "No sign will be given. "
The sign of Jonah was the radical conversion of the Ninevites as a result of Jonah's preaching. The Ninevites underwent a radical conversion because they heard God's voice in Jonah's. The reason they converted was that their ears and hearts were open to what Jonah had to say.
The Jews weren't converted when they heard Jesus preach because they didn't recognize God's voice in his. And the reason they didn't do this was that their ears and hearts were closed to what Jesus had to say. If the Jews had opened their hearts to Jesus' preaching, they too would have seen the "sign of Jonah," a radical conversion of themselves and their brothers and sisters.
How open is our heart to what Jesus has to say? " 'You shall indeed hear but not understand, you shall indeed look but never see.' " Matthew 13:14
Even for pagans, even for those known for their cruelty, like the people that enslaved the Jews, it is possible to be converted. When the author of the Book of Jonah told this to the Jews, it was an astonishing message to them. For Jews, yes, but for pagans? Jesus seems to turn things around: pagans turn to God, but you, God’s people, don’t. Aren’t we Christians perhaps too smug too, thinking that we are God’s people, and therefore need no conversion?
There are plenty of material about the predictions of the end of the world and doomsday prophecies. So much so that we get numbed by it and we begin to see them as some kind of a dumb joke. Yet, whether we frown upon or make fun of it, there is an urgency about these doomsday prophecies. Putting it simply, it tells us to be prepared and to get ready for impending judgement and punishment.
Well, in the 1st reading, if the people of Nineveh were to frown or make fun of the prophet Jonah, then it would have been really disastrous for them. But they heeded the message, maybe because they acknowledge their evil behaviour and the wicked things they have done. The season of Lent calls us to conversion and repentance so that we can be forgiven and healed by God.
Yet it is not a question of whether we are heeding the message. We all know we must repent, but is there an urgency? Let us not wait and take things easy, especially in this season of Lent. The people of Nineveh were given three days. We may have lesser time.
Forgiving, merciful God, we pray you for a good measure of humility and honesty to acknowledge before you and people that we are weak and fallible men and women, who often try to turn a blind eye to our shortcomings and our sins. Strong with the grace won in the hard way by your Son on the cross, we beg you for the courage to seek your forgiveness and to turn and return wholeheartedly to you and to serve you and people. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.