Jules Does

Jules Does Lent: Get Your Contrition On

Posted on: February 17, 2016

I’m experimenting with the title formats, can you tell?

Anyway, welcome to Wednesday, and if you thought the readings for the past few days had been a bit vague in calling for us to turn away from sin and towards God, then I have some good news for you: today’s readings are punch-to-the-gut direct. In the past few posts I’ve overlooked the Psalm for the day, but today’s Psalm and its response “A humbled, contrite heart, O Lord, you will not spurn” are really in tune with today’s theme of heavy contrition and not resting on one’s laurels.

We begin with a reading from Jonah, and not the fun part where he gets swallowed by a fish. When we meet Jonah and he receives God’s instructions to go to Nineveh and preach repentance, Jonah has already learned his lesson from the fish incident and therefore toddles off to Nineveh without complaint.  Jonah goes to this city and walks across it, proclaiming as he goes that God will destroy the city in forty days (there’s that measurement of time again). Notice that he doesn’t say anything more complicated than that, just that Nineveh will be destroyed. Now, Nineveh in this case stands for all things  evil and godless, much as the city of Babylon would do in later Biblical writings. Crucially, of course, the inhabitants of Nineveh were not Jews, and were therefore not the chosen people. They had no access to the one true God, worshipping idols instead.

So what do these godless people do when they hear the word of the God in whom they do not believe? Do they laugh Jonah out of town? Ride him out on a rail? Ignore him?

In fact, they do none of these things. Instead, everyone from the king to the lowest animal of the field puts on sackcloth and ashes and fasts and prays for God to spare the city, and He does. They don’t know in advance that God will turn from His anger, but they decide to show God their penance anyway. What could have prompted such an incredible conversion of heart in so many people? Only the most profound outpouring of divine grace through the unworthy (and grouchy) vessel known as Jonah.

In the New Testament reading, we hear of the “sign of Jonah”, which I won’t go into too deeply now, suffice to say that some think it refers to the three days Jonah spent in the fish’s belly and the corresponding three days in which Christ suffered, died and rose again. Others disagree. The reading here makes it relatively clear (to me anyway) that Christ says that the Son of Man has come to warn the people (especially the Jews, the people of God) that repentance is necessary, for the kingdom of God is near, just as Jonah came to warn the Ninevites. He also has a sting in the tail for his listeners who may have thought they they were better or more righteous than the Gentiles simply by virtue of being Jewish – Christ uses the examples of the Queen of Sheba and the city of Nineveh to remind everyone that God’s grace is accessible to all, Jew and Gentile alike.

Both the Queen of Sheba and the Ninevites went drastically out of their normal patterns to seek the Lord – the Queen came all the way to Jerusalem from Africa, the Ninevites at all levels of society fasted and humiliated themselves for days – and the unspoken question here is clearly:

“And what are you doing to seek the Lord? Are you journeying? Are you fasting? Are you considering your sins? Are you seeking the Lord’s grace and wisdom? Because don’t think that just because you tick one particular box on the census regarding your religion that you’re definitely ‘in there’ with God. Don’t think that just because you go to the right building at the right time on the right day and move your hands and legs in the right ways that you don’t also need to repent and seek the Lord and be saved. You absolutely do, we all do, and there may be some people whom you consider to be beyond help who will be able to rise up at the Day of Judgement and face the Lord, and they will condemn you. But it is not too late! The Kingdom of God is at hand! Repent and believe the Good News!

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1 Response to "Jules Does Lent: Get Your Contrition On"

[…] readings for Monday of the third week of Lent are a lot like the ones I wrote about on the 17th (Wednesday of the first week), in that the Old Testament reading describes a non-Jew’s […]

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