Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 18-19
Repentance and mercy are two themes in today’s Liturgy of the Word. The story of Jonah is well known: God commanded him to preach repentance in the city of Nineveh, the capital of Israel’s enemy. And Jonah – knowing full well that if the city repented, then God would be merciful and not punish the city – fled from this divine command. Jonah preferred the destruction of Israel’s enemy to the salvation of Nineveh’s inhabitants. After three days in the belly of the great fish, Jonah arises and fulfills the word of the Lord. Nineveh, led by its king, repents and is spared.
The sign of Jonah, in the Gospel of Luke, is the call to repentance, to conversion, to leaving behind sinful ways. The reluctant Jonah also becomes a sign of God’s mercy toward those who repent.
Our situation is not that of Jonah and the Ninevites – for we have received something greater than the laconic preaching of Jonah. In fact, we have received something greater than the preaching of all the prophets of Israel and even the preaching of John the Baptist. We have received the Word of God and the Bread of Life. We have received the Sacraments – the effective signs of salvation. Through the sacraments we share in the mysteries of Christ’s life.
Life in Christ is something greater than Nineveh’s response to Jonah’s call to repentance. Repentance is merely a part of a first step. Christian life is so much more – for grace not only purifies us but also elevates us to share in God’s life. And so, through repentance, we turn from a sinful life – which is actually a negation of life – to divine life in the Son and in the Holy Spirit.