SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Jonah 3:1-10; Ps 51:3-4, 12-13, 18-19; Luke 11:29-32 ]

Jonah was sent to preach repentance to the city of Nineveh.  This was the most important city in the kingdom of Assyria.  But it was a notorious and wicked city.  The Assyrians were a proud people and the leaders thought highly of their military might and power.  They were heartless and committed atrocious acts of cruelty.   Indeed, they were the most hated and feared enemy of Israel.  Hence, we can understand why Jonah was reluctant to go to Nineveh to preach the message of repentance as commanded by the Lord.  It is a human response to feel that such evil people deserve to be destroyed by their evil deeds and sins.  To try and get them to repent would mean that the disasters that Jonah hoped would befall them could be halted.  So it was out of hatred for the Assyrians that Jonah fled from the assignment that the Lord gave to him.

Eventually, he went out of obedience to the Lord, albeit reluctantly, to warn them of the imminent destruction.  “The word of the Lord was addressed to Jonah: ‘Up!’ he said, ‘Go to Nineveh, the great city, and preach to them as I told you to.’ Jonah set out and went to Nineveh in obedience to the word of the Lord.”  He warned the inhabitants, “Only forty days more and Nineveh is going to be destroyed.”  And we are told that “the people of Nineveh believed in God; they proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least. The news reached the king of Nineveh, who rose from his throne, took off his robe, put on sackcloth and sat down in ashes.”  He even promulgated a decree ordering all the peoples to fast, “put on sackcloth and call on God with all their might; and let everyone renounce his evil behaviour and the wicked things he has done.”

This is the same message the Church is also telling the world.  Humanity has fallen into a state of worsening degeneration.  We see these signs everywhere.  Secularism has put God out of circulation in society.  Relativism has blurred the distinction between what is right and wrong, good and evil.  Technology has made man so proud of himself that he thinks he can build the world and find happiness without God.  Affluence has made man a slave to the flesh and to the pleasures of the world.  As a result, we see the institutions of marriage and family under attack today.  Strong marriages and families, which are the bedrock of society, are weakened.  Even the question of the gender of a human person is put in question.  As a result of an amoral society, we see increasing cases of child abuse, widespread pornography, terrorist activities, senseless killings, acceptance of abortion and euthanasia, justification of wars and drugs for personal pleasure, promotion of promiscuity and infidelity in marriages, etc.  When we allow such trends to continue, then humanity is on its way to destruction because with more broken families, dysfunctional children and marriages, a society that is oblivious to what is good and bad for them, we will destroy ourselves.  In the name of freedom, we have allowed ourselves to become slaves to the world, to the flesh and to the evil influence of Satan.

Beyond these signs, because of the selfishness of man towards the planet, scientists and environmentalists have warned us about the dangers of climate change.  The effects of global warming are everywhere.  Not only do we have rising temperatures but we are seeing the effects of extreme weather, melting glaciers, rising seas, forest fires, destruction of wildlife and the spread of diseases.  The world will be extinct if no action is taken. But few are taking heed of this urgency to protect the ecology. Businesses just want to make more money at the expense of deforestation, pollution of our waters, excessive heating up of the planet.  But who cares, as we all think this will not happen in our time.  Let the next generation suffer and let them solve this problem themselves.  We just enjoy ourselves and continue to abuse creation for our selfish needs without caring for the world tomorrow.

Indeed, we see all the signs of imminent destruction of humanity but we are not moved!  We are like the people during the time of Jesus, still asking for signs.  Jesus remarked, “This is a wicked generation; it is asking for a sign. The only sign it will be given is the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.”  We have the sign of Jonah and the Ninevites present in our time when we study the amoral and individualistic outlook of society.  But we are not paying attention to them.  We are still asking for signs.

Asking for further signs is but a mere distraction.  The truth is that we do not want to change.  We are indifferent to what is happening.  We are numb to our spiritual blindness and sensitivity to sin.  We have been so secularized by the world, the mass media, the values of society that we cannot hear the voice of God and the prophets that He sends us to urge us to repentance.  Indeed, we are like the people during the time of Jesus who had Jesus with them.  He performed all the miracles and yet they were still asking for signs!  Jesus was the Word of God in person.  He was the Wisdom and truth of God.  But they could not accept.  They pretended to listen to Him but their hearts and minds were unconverted.  Hence, the Lord said, “On Judgement day the Queen of the South will rise up with the men of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and there is something greater than Solomon here. On Judgement day the men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation and condemn it, because when Jonah preached they repented; and there is something greater than Jonah here.”

Unlike us, the leaders and the people of Nineveh, upon hearing the warning of destruction, took heed of the message of Jonah even though he was not one of them.  They believed the message and repented immediately.  Not only did they stop sinning but they turned away from their evil ways.  They realized that if they were to continue their sinful lives, their peoples would be destroyed.  The only way to prevent such disasters from taking place was to turn to God and away from evil.  They said, “Who knows if God will not change his mind and relent, if he will not renounce his burning wrath, so that we do not perish?”

In truth, God immediately forgives anyone who turns away from sin because He wants us to live and not die.  The Lord said through prophet Ezekiel, “If the wicked turn away from all their sins that they have committed and keep all my statutes and do what is lawful and right, they shall surely live; they shall not die.”  (cf Ez 18:21-24)  St Paul wrote, “If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.”  (Gal 6:8)  In other words, the judgement is brought upon us not directly by God but by our sins. We reap what we sow.  This is what is meant is when we read, “God saw their efforts to renounce their evil behaviour. And God relented: he did not inflict on them the disaster which he threatened.” This is what the psalmist says, “For in sacrifice you take no delight, burnt offering from me you would refuse, my sacrifice, a contrite spirit.  A humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn.”

This invitation to repentance must begin from each one of us, from the clergy and religious to lay leaders and the ordinary Catholic.  The problem is that the most difficult people to convert are those who think they are holy and good Catholics.  They are so used to teaching people about what is truth and what is right but fail to reflect for themselves whether they are practising what they preach.  Indeed, the greatest obstacle in repentance is always the sin of spiritual pride and blindness.  When we are not aware of our own sinfulness, thinking that we are good enough, the call to repentance does not strike our hearts deeply.  We say to ourselves that this message of repentance is for others but not for me.  So there is no real conversion on our part. We are so used to the gospel message that we do not enter deeply into ourselves to examine our sinfulness.  We need to pray for a humble and contrite heart to see ourselves before the goodness and mercy of God, if we are to seek true repentance of our sins of neglect and indifference towards God and the need of our brothers and sisters.

Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved

Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
  • Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
  • Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
  • It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.

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