Jon 3:1-10; Ps 51:3,4,12,13,18,19; Lk 11:29-32: Again the great Psalm of repentance, again we are summoned to pray for mercy. It is the goodness of God that we long would fill us. It is the compassion of God we depend upon. Only the LORD has what it takes to wipe away our offenses. He alone can wash us from guilt and cleanse us from sin. Only with a clean heart and a steadfast spirit can we have a deep and lasting renewal, and only our very personal renewal will enable us to renew the face of the earth. We long to abide in His Presence. Our deepest desire is to be filled with the Holy Spirit. This kind of an interior conversion is not created by sacrifices of our own making. Even burnt offerings will not make it happen. We must offer the LORD a contrite spirit. Only the sacrifice of a heart contrite and humbled, God will not spurn. Anything less will insult the LORD. He is slow to anger and rich in mercy. His patience and generosity are greater than any sin or offense of the human heart. For this, we give thanks each Lenten Liturgy. Like in the days of Jonah, when the LORD God beholds our contrite heart, he repents of the evil he had threatened to do; he does not carry it out. Here at the Table of the Eucharist, the Sacrifice of Calvary reaches out to touch our wounds and heals our broken hearts; we have a greater than Jonah here.
Why did the word of the LORD come to Jonah a second time? He was self-willed and disobedient. Jonah like any good Jew at that time did not want God to have mercy on Nineveh. They were enemies of Israel. Why would any Jewish prophet preach and call their enemies to repentance? The fact that the whole city-state began to fast and turn from evil really upset Jonah. He was not pleased with the good results of his preaching. He knew that the LORD would have his way. He knew that his preaching would be convincing. It was especially persuasive, because someone who did not care if Nineveh fell off the face of the earth, did it. Would anyone of us be willing to go and preach repentance in modern-day Nineveh—Iraq? This God who has summoned us to covenant relationship is a Lion, and he is dangerous. To be in a relationship with God is to be open, radically open, to a love that has no boundaries and no agendas. He wants all people to be saved. This universal salvific will of God will be accomplished even if he has to give us a three-day trip inside a big fish. Most of us share the reluctance of all the true Prophets of the LORD in Israel, and some of us are just like Jonah. We have to silence our anger and resentment—especially that which we feel toward God who is making such demands on us and on our ministry. Once we are silent, the LORD can speak through us to save more of his beloved children from idolatry.
Like Jonah, the Lord Jesus walked among his enemies and preached the only truth that could set them free. The crowds were picking up on the demands of the leaders and the Pharisees who demanded a sign from the Preacher, Jesus. They wanted a sign that was undeniable and public. They wanted a sign that would take away the need to have faith. They could not pray with the father of the possessed boy, “I do believe, Lord, help my unbelief.” The Lord Jesus would only give what Jonah gave. He preached the truth of God’s Judgment and the coming of God’s Kingdom. The Lord Jesus has more wisdom than the wisest man who ever lived. He has a more persuasive sign than a reluctant enemy prophet. The Lord and Savior of all people of every time and place offered the sign of his own body publicly stripped and crucified. This was the only sign he had to offer. We still behold his suffering turned into passion. We still repent and believe in the unconditional love of God. He cannot love us more. He will not love us less. He loves us without hesitation and without regret. He loves us eternally. Indeed, we do have a greater than Solomon and a greater than Jonah here.