Wednesday of the First Week of Lent
Jonah 3: 1-10
Luke 11: 29-32
Our first reading today from the book of the prophet Jonah, tells a strange story. At God’s instruction, Jonah goes to Nineveh, a major city, and walks across the city proclaiming a terrifying message, "Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed!" The reaction of the people was immediate and dramatic. They began to fast and dressed themselves in sackcloth. The king of Nineveh reacted in exactly the same way. He took off his crown and royal robes, declared a fast, put on sackcloth and sat in the ashes. They all believed that God was, indeed, going to destroy them and their city. But they did not despair or flee, they changed their lives. The king told the people, "Who knows, God may relent and forgive, and withhold his blazing wrath, so that we shall not perish." And, they were right. Seeing their change of heart and deep repentance, God did relent. He chose instead to forgive them and give them new life.
It seems a strange story to me for several reasons. Though given a clear message of condemnation and destruction, the people of Nineveh didn’t make excuses or try to justify their lives or hide or flee the city. Rather, they admitted the evil in their lives, repented and actually took steps to change the way they were living. And, perhaps most remarkable of all, they took the risk of trusting in a merciful God. Their trust was not in vain.
It is no accident that we hear this wonderful story right at the beginning of the Lenten Season. It’s a vivid reminder that no matter where we are in life, nor what evil we have done, nor how strong a grip sin may have on us, God wants to forgive and make us whole. We only need to let God know that is our deepest desire. We pray that we can find ways to let God know that we trust completely in his mercy.
Fr. Michael Higgins, C.P. is the director of the Development Office for Holy Cross Province and is stationed at Immaculate Conception Community in Chicago.