1 March, Wednesday — Learning from Jonah and the Ninevites

Wednesday of the 1st Week of Lent

Jon 3:1-10
Lk 11:29–32

Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.

Today’s first reading is from the book of Jonah, which I find an almost tragicomic story in its description of Jonah’s futile attempts to avoid God’s call. But I can definitely relate to Jonah, since I would also have baulked at the seemingly impossible, extremely dangerous and, in Jonah’s own view at least, rather unnecessary mission to go preach to the ‘enemy’ city of Nineveh. (This reluctance also reminds me of the disciple Ananias, who was understandably intimidated when he was called to play a role in the conversion of the notorious Saul of Tarsus – though Ananias was far more obedient than Jonah!) Yet, once Jonah decided to obey the Lord, he actually attained great success, to the point that even the King (and animals) obeyed his call to repentance. I suppose Jonah’s experience, as well as Ananias’, shows us how we can indeed achieve the impossible if we are willing to obey our Lord and trust in His grace.

In the context of today’s readings, I am also struck by why and how the people of Nineveh were so prompt to heed Jonah’s preaching, especially in contrast to the prophet’s own experience. Did they already know about, but choose to ignore God’s presence, till Jonah arrived to give them a ‘final warning’? Despite their wicked behaviour and indulgences, were they sufficiently self-aware to recognise their need for repentance? Anyway, they definitely chose to humble themselves and turn away from sin, which led them to receive God’s mercy – an outcome which annoyed Jonah, but which I found a reassuring example of our Lord’s boundless patience and mercy, which is still relevant today for ourselves. It could also serve as a lesson on how we ought not to judge others — something which I’ve always thought easier said than done.

But if we look at the Gospel passage for today, it would appear as if the people in Jesus’ time had not really learned from the lessons of Jonah, perhaps because they had also dismissed Nineveh as a sinful city and enemy of Israel. Despite their knowledge of Scripture and history, they were not able to fully understand Jesus and his teachings, which enabled us to see a relatively exasperated Jesus – yet another example of how human He is, though I also wonder if He has the same reaction every time I fret and worry in prayer. I suppose I am more similar to this ‘evil generation’ than I would like to admit.

Nonetheless, Jesus continued to teach the people He met and administer to their needs, just as God gave the people of Nineveh one more chance through Jonah. I would like to think these stories offer us hope and reassure us of our Lord’s patience and generosity as we embark on Lent. Perhaps this time, as we think of how we can fast, pray and give alms, we can also take heed from today’s readings and ask ourselves if we have been missing, or wilfully ignoring, any signs or prompts that we should change certain habits in order to turn back to God.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Jaclyn Lam)

Prayer: Lord, forgive us for the times we refuse to hear or follow your call. Help us to get to know You better so that we can hear You and trust in You, and in Your plans for us. 

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for your boundless mercy and patience. Thank you for the lessons which scripture provides us.   


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