Here in the U.S., we are embroiled in a presidential election year, so candidates from both sides of our primarily 2-party system are criticizing one another about decisions that they made in their political lives, and are warning us of the impending doom that will fall upon us if the other candidate is elected. Often, these candidates will say things that are exactly the opposite.
Whom should we believe? If one candidate says that a certain small, brightly-colored, non-corrugated cardboard box is a shoebox, the other will certainly step forward to assert that it is not a shoebox, it is something else entirely. To me, it looks like a shoebox, but certainly I’ve seen other shoeboxes that look nothing like that one. So I begin to doubt my own perceptions. Am I really qualified to make an independent decision in this matter? By the time I’ve listened to both candidates argue, I’m no longer confident that my own experiences and perceptions are valid.
In the first reading, Jonah takes the Word of the Lord out to the Ninevites, and before he is even a third of the way across the city, the King hears of it and declares all humans and beasts of Nineveh to take on sackcloth and ashes in repentance. The miracle here is not that they were spared by the Lord, but that the people of Nineveh actually listened to Jonah and took action to avert punishment. They knew the Truth when they heard it and acted upon it.
It doesn’t matter how many signs we receive from the Lord -- if we don’t watch for them (with our own eyes) and change our behaviors based upon them (with our own hearts and minds), then they do no good.
I was telling my Professional Writing class the other day that their readers will want to believe certain things, and that a sure way to commercial success is to tell those readers what they want to hear. But as writers, they have a moral responsibility to tell the truth, which will guarantee only a small (though loyal) following, especially when they tell a truth that very few are willing to hear. Which kind of writer are they going to be? Time will tell.
Yet we are all readers, too. What do we want to hear? Do we want to hear that we are Important? That we are Entitled to an inordinate share of the world’s resources? Or that we are Better than our neighbors because we don’t need to hear these things? We can find plenty of people who will tell us what we want to hear, especially if we take care to only socialize in circles of like-minded individuals and only engage publications and news channels that slant heavily towards political views that help us feel better about ourselves. This behavior is characteristic of the Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day.
But Jesus always tells the Truth. He IS the Truth. In today’s Gospel reading, He tells the gathered crowd that it is “an evil generation” and that they will be condemned. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus tells us that we are weak and petty and forewarns us that He will have to die on a cross just to save us from ourselves, but that He loves us anyway. Never once in the Gospels do I see Jesus saying, “Right on, Scribes and Pharisees! You’re just misunderstood. We all know how the world really works, don’t we? (wink, wink).”
Somehow, I just cannot picture Jesus winking. At least not in today’s Gospel passage.