Jon 3:1-10; Ps 51:3,4,12,13,18,19; Lk 11:29-32
The only sacrifice the LORD will accept is a contrite spirit and a humble heart. Nothing else is worthy of his acceptance. The LORD is not interested in burnt offerings; unless, a heartfelt prayer for mercy offers the sacrifice on the altar, the LORD will spurn it. Nothing is worthy of the LORD except the LORD. He has made us in his own image and likeness; in our heart of hearts we choose or refuse to accept our true identity. If we live at the center of our desire, will, and volition, we live in our heart of hearts. It is from just such a place that we cry out for mercy. From our heart we proclaim the goodness of God, and the greatness of his compassion. From our heart we plead urgently, “Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me”. We seek a clean heart and a steadfast spirit that only the LORD can give us. We do not want to be cast out of his presence, and we pray that the LORD leaves his Holy Spirit within us. Such is the prayer of a contrite King David, and such is the prayer of every humble sinner. The king of Nineveh prayed with just this kind of authenticity, and the city received the mercy of God. What could be greater than Jonah? What could be greater than Solomon? Perhaps, the incarnate wisdom of God, the Word Made Flesh, is greater than the prophet or the king; it is Christ who makes present and available the very mercy of the Father for the people of Israel and for all the nations.
The Prophet Jonah had to hear the word of the LORD a second time. The message was the same, “Set out for the great city of Nineveh…” This time Jonah does not walk away from the LORD; he sets out to accomplish the purpose for which he was sent. Jonah does the LORD’s bidding, no more trips inside large fish. Not only was Jonah one of the most reluctant prophets of the LORD, he was one of the most successful of God’s prophets. In the first of three days of preaching Jonah had convinced the people of Nineveh to do something to avoid destruction. Even the King of Nineveh, “laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.” Such was the power of the word of the LORD through his reluctant prophet Jonah. Everyone, even the farm animals showed God by their actions that they had turned from their evil way. When the LORD saw this “he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out.” Jonah was by no means delighted with his success. Jonah wanted Nineveh to be destroyed, after all he was a faithful Israelite. He wanted to see the destruction of his enemies. As Saint Paul explains in his writings, we are saved by the grace of Christ while still enemies, while still sinners. The great gift of new life in Christ is prefigured in a new lease on life for the pagan country and perpetual enemy of Israel. The boundless mercy of the LORD is displayed in the preaching of Jonah and in the conversion of Nineveh. This very compassion and repentance is available all through our season of Lent and every day of the year for that matter. Indeed, Lent brings to mind the great good news that this is the day of salvation; now is the time for mercy!
The LORD who sees into the heart needs no sign. He knows when we are truly broken and humble of heart. The LORD does not need signs of repentance; we need to express externally that which is deep within us. The people and king of Nineveh revealed by their actions that they had a change of heart. We who cannot see what God can see need signs. The Lord Jesus is hounded throughout his ministry for a sign to prove that indeed The Promise has been fulfilled in him. In today’s gospel the Lord provides the only sign that will be given, the sign of Jonah. What is this sign? Perhaps it is the sign of being dead in the belly of a fish and coming to life again on the shore of Nineveh. Perhaps it is the sign of a city full of sin being overwhelmed by the voice of a foreigner, by an enemy. Indeed the Lord Jesus is the greatest enemy of sin and evil to ever walk the face of the earth. His word of warning, his fiery preaching, should be the only sign we need. In some ways we can call the Lord Jesus the New Jonah. Only he is not the least bit reluctant to do the will of God and preach the word of God. Likewise, the Lord rejoices over one repentant sinner. How can we express the jubilation the Lord has over a whole city of repentant sinners? Perhaps that’s why we need Lent and Easter, year after year.