Wednesday in the First Week of Lent

Scripture Readings: Jon 3:1-10; Lk 11:29-32

A perhaps well-known joke about Jonah has been told. A little girl was talking to her teacher abut whales. The little girl told the story of Jonah. The teacher said scientists have shown that it is physically impossible for a whale to swallow a human because the whales’ throat is too small. The little girl insisted it was true. The irritated teacher reiterated the impossibility of a whale swallowing a human.

The little girl said, “When I get to heaven I’ll ask Jonah.”

The teacher asked, “What if Jonah went to hell?”

The girl answered, “Then you ask him.”

If there were a comic strip in the bible, I suppose it would be the Book of Jonah. Jonah was a goof. Goofs are inept. He bumbles his way along trying to avoid God. Because of its slapstick playfulness, we readers of Jonah let our guard down. Then it hits where we live.

Jonah is a story. It’s a good story because it doesn’t let us read and critique it; it draws us into it as a participant. Jonah is not a hero; in the life of faith he’s a goof. He can’t reconcile God’s justice with His mercy. This is a major obstacle to Jesus’ mission that He stated last Sunday: “Repent and believe in the gospel.” Repentance (i.e. conversion) is not effective without faith. We experience the conversion of our intention…our intention to render God His just due (lest He render us ours). We do this believing in His mercy as shown us by faith in Jesus Christ.

The book of Jonah –and the life of Jesus Christ- teach the possibility and desirability of repentance before a merciful and forgiving God. It teaches by using a lot of verbs; IOW, both stories relate events more than doctrines. We identify more readily with events. Jonah elicits our identification and our sympathy –even empathy- as he struggles to understand the God he serves. Thus, it hits us where we live. The life, death and resurrection of Christ is a sign pointing to the reconciliation of God’s justice and mercy. In reconciling these we grow in our capacity to love God and neighbor.

It is in recognizing the events of our lives in the light of the events of the life of Jesus Christ that we recognize the Sign of Jonah.


Wednesday in the First Week of Lent

Scripture Readings: Jonah 3:1-10;  Lk 11:29-32         

Two deadly sins: presumption and despair.  During the time of the Prophet Jonah, the people of Israel were going through a crisis of faith in God’s love and mercy.  They were in despair.  The story of Jonah taught them that just as the enormous wickedness of the Ninevites was forgiven when they repented, so also, God forgives our failings when we repent.   

The sign of Jonah, foreshadowing the death and resurrection of Jesus, was given to overcome despair. But there is another sin just as deadly, presumption.  In the Catholic Catechism we read that presumption expects forgiveness without repentance.   

The sign of Jesus hanging on the cross is the remedy for both deadly sins.  By the enormous sufferings Jesus endured, he shows us how terrible sin is, to keep us from presumption.  By his prayer of forgiveness during his agony on the cross Jesus shows how great God’s mercy is, to keep us from despair. 

Flannery O’Connor, who attended daily Mass, described her life as staggering between despair and presumption.  Like her, we ping pong between these temptations, but living in the tension of the middle, between despair and presumption, is the virtuous, if difficult place to be as a believer.  We can only do it by keeping our eyes on the sign of Jesus crucified.