|Saints Perpetua & Felicity,
Psalms 51:3-4, 12-13, 18-19
The story from Jonah reminds me of the cartoons we see often with the wild-haired, bearded, usually bug-eyed, prophet of doom who proclaims that the end of the world is near. These cartoons usually are humorous, and if we by chance encounter such a person on the street we more than likely treat them like the cartoon - a diversion, nothing serious, a message of no substance.
Yet the people of Nineveh, a huge city (think New York?) listened to someone very much like our cartoon character and repented within a day. What power Jonah must have exuded! He must have palpably conveyed the sincerity, the truth, the reality of his message. Even the king, the one who had the most to lose by changing the status quo, "sat in the ashes" and repented.
Jesus says in the gospel excerpt from Luke that "no sign will be given except the sign of Jonah." What was that sign? The passage from Jonah is silent. Jesus doesn't elaborate. I think the answer is that Jonah was a true messenger from God, speaking plainly God's message, to a people who listened. His power came not from miracles or signs, but from the message and how it was delivered.
The psalmist reminds us that God values a contrite and humbled heart, exactly what the people of Nineveh realized when they listened to Jonah. The psalmist puts into words our prayer for this lenten season - "A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me." In a later time Jesus calls his listeners to respond to the same message, to seek a clean heart and a steadfast spirit. His presence is greater than Jonah, and his listeners, including us, receive a clearer enunciation of God's call to us.
And so I pray today that I can listen to the message of Jesus as the people of Nineveh listened to God's message delivered by Jonah, and that I can act on that message by seeking a clean heart and a steadfast spirit.
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