Scripture: Lectionary 227. 2/29 Jonah 3:1-10. Psalm 51:3-4.12-13.18-19. Luke 11:29-32
We often use “threes” as a way of emphasizing something important. This use of three is often present in the Scriptures. Today’s theme is taken from the Prophet Jonah (peaceful dove). “Relent, forgive, and withdraw from anger!” The words come from God through his prophet and keep us focused on one of the principal themes of Lent—Repentance. As believers in God and followers of Jesus (disciples) we are to embrace those words and to live them out not only during Lent but throughout our lifetime. The forty days of Lent match the forty days of Jonah’s preaching to the Ninevites. They listen and repent from the king down to the littlest among them and even their animals! Now that is repentance, isn’t it. Though Jonah is disappointed in their spirit of conversion and repentance we lean much from their acceptance of the call from God through Jonah.
Jesus tells us that Jonah is a sign for us and Jesus who tells us this is both greater than the prophet and wiser than Solomon. We learn how to praise him after the example of the Queen of the South did during the time of Solomon when she came to experience Solomon’s wisdom. We are to “read the signs of the times” both those of the present century and the signs that are given in the Scriptures. We are called to relent, to repent, and to stop our being angry—a beginning sign of violence in speech or action. We are to imitate the Ninevites in their response to Jonah and turn his prophetic condemnation into a blessing. We can learn how to interpret Jonah from Jesus who refers to him in today’s Gospel.
At first sight, we may think that Jesus is boasting about himself, but as the anointed one we know from St. Luke that Jesus is the Messiah and that he is both compassionate and wiser than the prophet and Solomon. Jesus is calling those around him and us to relent, to repent, and to stop being angry. This is a good lesson for us during Lent.
The book of Jonah is quite short and can be another good spiritual reading for our Lenten Journey. The moral lesson we get from this little work is to alert us to the clarion voice that we hear from Jesus lips telling us we too have forty days in which to learn the lessons of Jonah. We can add the beautiful verse from the best of the penitential psalms to our personal prayer: “Have mercy on us, O God, in your goodness, in the greatness of your compassion wipe out our offenses.” Amen.
A second reflection on Jonah:
The Trappist monk,Thomas Merton, in one of his earlier writings called it “The Sign of Jonah”. This title is taken from Luke 11:29-32 where Jesus is hinting also at his resurrection. The context and content of both the selection form Luke and Jonah leads us to the practice and mindset of conversion, reform, and repentance. These are attitudes characteristic of Lent.
In the Synagogue the Book of Jonah is combined with eleven other prophetic books making up just one scroll. These twelve prophetic and inspired writings are erroneously called the “Twelve Minor Prophets”. They are anything but minor except in their length. Jonah unlike the other eleven is more story-like in the way it is narrated by the inspired author. Jesus helps us to see the correct interpretation by calling us to repent, relent, and stop being angry. In the Synagogue this writing is read on the most solemn of days, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (one with God). Returning and repenting are essential as acts of penance. This is called a Teshuvah or Turning to God type of conversion. Thus the traditional interpretation of Jonah is one of repentance for all of us. . Perhaps, the three days in which Jonah was within the belly of the whale and the forty days mentioned in chapter three are symbols and signs that underline Jesus’ reference to his resurrection. At any rate, we definitely are in the Lenten spirit with the readings for this day. Amen.