Jonah was an unwilling messenger of God’s mercy. God sent Jonah to Nineveh to show God was concerned for the well being of all God’s people. Jonah was caught up in the narrow nationalism that believed God was only concerned about the well being of the Israelites and he was disappointed that the people listened to his call to repentance and the city was spared.
God threatened to destroy the city and in a way that is what happened. Through the preaching of Jonah the people did repent and ceased to be the Ninevites that they were. The old Nineveh became a renewed Nineveh. A Nineveh with which God was pleased but Jonah was not.
We can imagine God was displeased with the people of Nineveh because of the way they lived their lives. We can imagine they were caught up in extravagant and wasteful life styles. We can imagine there was a rift between the haves and the have nots. We can imagine that the poor, hungry and homeless of the city were neglected. We can imagine that the citizens of Nineveh had no sense of the common good. We can be grateful that through the preaching of Jonah all this changed
The message of Jonah and Jesus was the same: repent. But what does it mean to repent? Basically it means we are determined change the values that govern our lives. The Greek word for repent is metanoiein – which means to change one’s mind. People who are willing to repent are people who take an honest look at their life styles and know they are meant for better things. They are people who face the fact that over-eating, over-drinking and smoking – just to use a few examples – shorten a person’s life and they are determined to change the ways they are living their lives.
The call to repent can also challenge our ways of thinking, our attitudes toward other people, our attitudes toward the way life is lived around us. Remember the old idea of the examination of conscience? At the end of the day we were to look back over the day and remember the good things we did and admit the things we failed to do. The deeper understanding of this practice was that it was meant to be an examination of our consciousness. How conscious are we about what was going on around us in the course of the day. How conscious are we about an atmosphere of prejudice in our work place or how conscious are we about the stress our fellow workers are under. How conscious are we about the social issues that are alive in our city. How awake and aware are we to what is going on around us.
We are not bad people but sometimes we allow ourselves to get sucked into values and mind sets that are not of the gospel – we’ve seen some of this in the battle of the budget- some of the cuts called for were cuts that some members of the council knew to be wrong and they stopped them because they touched the lives of the have nots, the most needy of citizens. They blamed the victims, good people who are suffering the most in these harsh economic times. Good people, who through no fault of their own do not know how to manage their lives, much less manage their money, limited people who need help. The debate wasn’t all that impressive especially in light of our gospel teaching on how we are to respond to the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless and the helpless.
With the call to repent in both our first reading and the gospel maybe it would be good for all of us to examine our consciousness of the problems and the issues that affect our city and be willing to do what we can to make our city a more humane and kinder place to live.