One week into the Lenten season we hear dire predictions of punishment for sin in Nineveh and the penitential practices undertaken by the people (sackcloth and ashes and total fasting from food and drink) that turned God away from destroying their city. Jesus comments in the gospel (LK 11) on the evil existing in his day, making comparison to Jonah’s time and the Ninevites. Each generation sees atrocities that are unthinkable in the eyes of godly people and we who pride ourselves on the “progress” of history and culture are shocked that such evil should exist in our day. How ought we to approach God in the face of sin and failure to love as a world community and in our own lives today? God is certainly still listening, waiting as in Jonah’s day for recognition from us of the need for forgiveness. I believe that the answer lies in the image of compassion that we find today in Psalm 51 where the exchange with God goes deeper than actions and events and gets to the heart of things.
Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense…A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me…For you are not pleased with sacrifices; should I offer a burnt offering, you would not accept it. My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
Today is perhaps a good day to reflect on the humility that looks deeply into the mirror of truth, offering whatever we find there to the God whose face looks back at us with compassion and love.