The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.
When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.”
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 18-19
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
For you have no delight in sacrifice;
if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation. The queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here! The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!
Our Lenten readings today present us with quite the study of both repentance and calling others to repent. First we read the story of Jonah, the reluctant prophet, who had to be dramatically rerouted by God to proclaim His words, and who was still not happy when his proclamation succeeded remarkably and Nineveh repented en masse. Contrast this with the gospel, in which Jesus intentionally and wholeheartedly sought out the lost and called them to repentance, yet lamented the fact that the generation He spoke to did not heed Him but tested Him instead. And in between these readings, we read king David’s psalm of contrition, a first person account of repentance from the father of Solomon the wise.
The stories of Jonah the prophet and Jesus, the priest, prophet, and king, remind us that we are called to proclaim the gospel of repentance and forgiveness to others. It doesn’t matter whether they listen to us or not or whether we do everything right or not; Jonah made mistakes and was heeded, while our perfect savior did everything right and was not always heeded. What matters is that we obey God, that we love God who desires His people to be in right relationship with Him, and that we love our fellow sinners who need to be in right relationship with their God.
And the story of the prophet Jonah and the king David remind us that, while we speak to others about God and call them to change, we also continually seek God, repent, and allow God to change us. We’re not “done” the moment we accept Jesus as our Lord, and we do not call people to conversion as perfect people who have it all together because of our salvation. Rather, Jesus continually heals and purifies us. We give an example of the change that we advocate by modeling in our own lives how God can work through our brokenness to make us whole and holy in our imperfection and vulnerability.
Where in my life do I need God’s mercy to change and to be more like Him? Am I working in my life to call others back to God? What are my obstacles both to change and to proclaiming the gospel?
Let’s bring these questions to Jesus today, and ask Him for His mercy in this holy season of Lent to make us more whole, more holy, and more willing and able to proclaim His great mercy and love.
Prayer: Jesus, thank you for coming to call me into Your love and salvation. Help me to keep changing and coming closer to You, and lift me up when I trip over my sins and imperfections. Help me to overcome my fears and hesitancies to speak about Your love to those in my life who do not know You yet, and to believe for the miracle of conversion.