March 8, 2017

Man, you gotta love the story of Jonah. This will definitely be a bedtime story for Leo down the road...

My abridged version:

Jonah is called by God to preach, then chickens out and hops a boat out of town to...hide from God? On a boat in the middle of the ocean? God obviously finds him and sets a storm upon the ship as punishment. The crew throws Jonah overboard to save themselves God's wrath and, despite Jonah's poor example, they are "seized with great fear of the LORD," so that they "offered sacrifice to the LORD and made vows."

Jonah is swallowed alive by a whale, and after some impassion....ahem....interior prayer, "the LORD commanded the fish to vomit Jonah upon dry land." After Jonah crosses 1/3 of Nineveh, every one of its citizens (and beasts!) repents in sackcloth and ashes.

Then there's this funny little bit about a temperamental Jonah and a gourd plant at the end. Nice little lesson about holding grudges.

For the official version of the story, see Today's Readings or the book of Jonah. For added insight, you can read the Introduction to the book of Jonah as well.

So, uh, what does it mean for us? What meaning can we glean from a story that sounds like it came out of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them? (Hint: ticking off God is a good start to finding some fantastic beasts, but the kind you'd rather not find.) Here are a few of my takeaways:

1) Fasting works! Sackcloth and ashes prevented the total destruction of the Nineveh, the capital of Israel's ancient enemy. For all of us struggling in our Lenten practices, take heart in the words of Scripture that prayer, fasting, and almsgiving have great effect in the spiritual world (See Mk 9:29). How nice would it be if we got some statistics about the efficacy of our fasting, intercession, or prayer? 1 meal abstained = 1 grace obtained. Our Instagram and Facebook-addled minds would appreciate that. But once again, we are called beyond our physical surroundings and bodily desires. Repentance often wear a disheartening aspect in our minds: "We have to give things up and be hungry"

2) We are called to be intercessors. God's mercy is apparent in that he even sent a prophet to Nineveh in the first place; he calls Jonah, like Abraham in the case of Sodom, to intercede for communities that had lost their way. These communities' hearts eventually determine their fate, but they are given a chance. Lent is a time for strengthening our communal ties, solidarity based on a shared vision of a world beyond our physical realm.

 

3) We are called to repent. I'll just let Jesus' words from today's Gospel speak for themselves here:

 

"At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation

and condemn it, because at the preaching of Jonah they repented,

and there is something greater than Jonah here." (Luke 11:32)

 

Jesus has just finished giving the crowd the Beatitudes, so this message of bleak message does not stand alone. Jesus is emphasizing the need for interior conversion and belief in Him alone, rather than the desire for a showy sign. After all, what more do we need than Jesus?

In all of our readings today, we are called deeper. God wants to give us more than we would ask for on our own, so we need to clear our minds to ask with His heart. In Lent, God is taking, yes, but only give more and more. He wants to fill us with His love, His peace, and His Spirit. We are going back to Him.

We pray together with the Psalmist:

A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,

and your Holy Spirit take not from me.

...

A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn

Frassati NY