3rd Sunday of the Year (b) 2018
Jesus in the Gospel and Jonah in the first reading are alike. Both go into a place and tell the people that the time has come for them to repent. We know what happened with Jonah, it was a success, for we are told ‘God saw the peoples’ efforts to renounce their evil behaviour. And God relented.’ Well done Jonah. But now what about Jesus; do the people relent? Do they turn away from their wicked behaviour and repent? The answer is not so clear: some do some don’t! In a way the repentance is ongoing. We could ask the same question of the people today, why not? The same gospel of Christ is preached today; do the people turn away from their sins and repent? I can’t really answer that question, other than suggest that some do, some don’t.
Jonah probably had an advantage over Christ; he had a threat, an imminent threat: He warns the people, ‘Only forty days more and Nineveh is going to be destroyed’, and we see the result of that: instant success: ‘the people of Nineveh believed in God, they proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least’. So, maybe Jesus should have used a threat. Maybe if he had told the people that they would all be destroyed the message would have got home, and they would have repented. Simple: why didn’t Jesus think of this?
Jesus doesn’t threaten, all he says is, ‘the time has come and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent and believe the Good News’. Nothing scary about that. Nothing to get people rushing to confession. Is this an opportunity missed, or is there more to Jesus message than meets the eye? I think there is. Look at the second part of his message; after Jesus asks the people to repent, what does he say? ‘Believe in the good news’. No threat. No stick to beat people with. No, Jesus instead of using a stick used a carrot. In other words, he doesn’t beat people into believing what he says, he doesn’t theaten them, he attracts them.
It’s not as if people of our generation are that much different from the people of Jonah’s time in Nineveh, or the people of Jesus’s time in Galilee. We are, all of us, struggling with our sinfulness. But Jesus doesn’t focus on the sinfulness, rather he says ‘believe the good news’. And what is this good news? It’s not new; but it is good; eternally good. The good news is that inspite of all our faults and failings, our weaknesses and even our sinfulness, that we are loved by God. Love is the carrot that attacts us, that draws us closer to Jesus Christ. It’s not a threat, on the contrary, it is a most attractive message.
Were Jonah to appear next week in High Street Kensington, or even Notting Hill, and start telling people that the world was coming to and end, those who believed him would be frightened; some would probably rush to our church and, while there was still time, ask us to forgive them for all their past and present sins. But the good catholic, should he or she believe our friend, would not panic, would not suddenly rush to our church, because he or she would know that God does not condemn them for their sins, on the contrary they would know that he loves them. What a difference in attitude between these two sets of people; one, fearful of God, the other free from all fear.
Soon it will be Lent, just less than a month to go, and we shall be hearing these words of repentance again. But the message of the gospel does not focus on the repentance so much as on the believing the good news. But there is no Jesus or Jonah today; but there is you. And it is your christian duty to tell people about the good news of Jesus Christ; tell people that they are loved by God even though they may be big sinners. And the more you believe this to be true of yourself, the more effective will your witness be.