Since Monday of this week, the Old Testament readings have proclaimed the story of Jonah. One that is familiar to most of us:
God calls Jonah to go to Ninevah to warn the people to change their ways because God was planning to smite them. Jonah quickly replied (I paraphrase), “No way, God. I’m not going. These guys are our enemies. I want you to smite them!” In an effort to avoid God’s request, Jonah flees and boards a ship bound for Tarshish. A great storm stirs up the sea, and Jonah’s shipmates find out that Jonah is running from God. At Jonah’s request, they throw him overboard.
As is often the case, God prepares a way out of this predicament. Yes, the familiar tale of Jonah being swallowed by a big fish, perhaps a whale, where he stayed for 3 days. At the end of that time, God commanded the fish to spew Jonah upon the shore. Jonah then decided to wise up and obey God.
Dutifully, Jonah walked through the city of Ninevah announcing, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed,” (Jon 3:4). The people of Ninevah believed and repented. When God saw this, he relented of the punishment he had planned. That’s where today’s story picks up.
Jonah was mad at God. He wanted the Ninevites destroyed. Jonah looked like a fool. Why didn’t God strike them down? They were bad dudes – murdering, plundering, conquering enemies. They didn’t deserve God’s mercy. Look how sinful they are.
God reminds Jonah of His great love and mercy for all his children (Jon 4:9-11).
I think we all need that reminder. We are so quick to hold a grudge, to not forgive, to judge. The love of God is so deep and wide – unfathomable. “For equal to his majesty is the mercy that He shows,” Sirach tells us (Sir 2:18) It’s bigger than we can comprehend. Even our moments of deepest human love, mercy, and forgiveness are mere shadows of the perfect love of God.
So when the psalm response came today, my heart welled up with joy, because I am a Ninevite, and only mercy saves me:
R. (15) Lord, you are merciful and gracious.
Have mercy on me, O Lord,
for to you I call all the day.
Gladden the soul of your servant,
for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
abounding in kindness to all who call upon you.
Hearken, O LORD, to my prayer
and attend to the sound of my pleading.
All the nations you have made shall come
and worship you, O Lord,
and glorify your name.
For you are great, and you do wondrous deeds;
you alone are God. (PS 86:3-6,9-10)
God calls us to love and to forgive as He does. Sin separates us from God and from one another. Before we move our minds and hearts to judge another, let us look first in the mirror at our own sin, begging God’s mercy.
A heart so formed can only respond with mercy and forgiveness to our brothers and sisters around us.
Oh Lord, make us like unto you! Anne