Today’s first reading (JON 3:1-10) tells the story of the second time God told Jonah to go to Nineveh to preach repentance. This time he went. His message was that the city – so large that “it took three days to go through it” – was going to be destroyed because of the “evil way” and violence of the inhabitants. Jonah was persuasive in delivering God’s message; it only took one day for the people to really hear him and as the key to everything: “The people believed God.” So they all began to fast and everyone put on sackcloth. The king of Nineveh was himself the model for their repentance. He “rose from his throne, laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in the ashes.” Here’s what he had proclaimed throughout Nineveh:
Neither man nor beast, neither cattle nor sheep, shall taste anything; they shall not eat, nor shall they drink water. Man and beast shall be covered with sackcloth and call loudly to God; every man shall turn from his evil way and from the violence he has in hand.
The end of the story tells that God did, in fact, relent and did not destroy Nineveh. I had a moment of wondering, in the midst of visualizing the scene and hearing the din of all those people begging “loudly” for God’s forgiveness, if perhaps we should try a similar tactic to rid our world of the violence that seems to be escalating in amount and kind everywhere we see on the news. But, of course, God was perceived differently to the people then and life, it seems, was more primitive. We are supposed to be living in a time of evolution of consciousness, the so-called “second axial age” where we are called to understand that we live now with a sense that the survival of the earth and all her inhabitants is in our hands. God is certainly not absent from the picture but our actions would sometimes belie that fact. Unless God is at the center of it all, nothing works. But God is not the only responsible party; we must see ourselves as co-creators or we are doomed to blame God for our failure. That is a different concept from all the images of God that most of us grew up with but I have come to believe that this is the maturity of faith that is incumbent on us if we are to survive.
Perhaps this is the year that the magnitude of the task of “change of heart” is upon us; we can no longer go on the way we have been living. Real conversion (turning) calls for solidarity as well as individual determination. So let us look deeply to see what needs to change in ourselves and join with others to call loudly to God in the words of Psalm 51: A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me. Perhaps God will answer and together we and God will make it happen.