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The story of Jonah

Thứ sáu - 10/03/2017 07:48
Faith is a not a response to evidence, but an openness to relationship.
 
THE STORY OF JONAH
 
Faith is a not a response to evidence, but an openness to relationship.  
 
Father Michael Savelesky
 
They say we all like a good story - and the story of Jonah and the whale is a good one. Unfortunately, although we likely are familiar with the general flow of the story from our childhood, we may not be familiar with the entire plot. Hence we focus on the exciting part about Jonah's scary time in the belly of a whale. This Lent the Church returns us to the story and invites us to hear it again, but correctly. An understanding of today's Gospel depends upon it.
 
Jonah was asked by God to preach a word of repentance to the Ninevites. Now the Ninevites were pagans, and, in Jonah's thinking would have nothing to do with him or the call to conversion he was to utter. Rather than obeying the Lord his God, he takes the first boat out of town. God wants Jonah back in Nineveh, so he raises a ruckus (a deadly storm). The pagan boatmen correctly conclude that the gods must be angry with Jonah. For their own safety, they toss their problem overboard. That's where we pick up the part about Jonah in the belly of the big fish (a whale in the movies). The whale burps Jonah back on shore and God repeats his request for his help. [Today's first reading.] With much doubt about the fruitfulness of his efforts, Jonah reluctantly plods through Nineveh from one end to the other, calling the people to repentance. He expects derision, rejection, and possible death. Much to his surprise, the people repent, from the king to the animals in the field! Their hearts are touched, and repentant behavior follows. The Ninevites needed no threat of extermination. The word Jonah preached - God's word - found a free response.
 
In today's Gospel Jesus uses the (full) Jonah story as background to comments to the crowd which has gathered around him. He had been preaching about the unfolding presence of God's Kingdom, and had been calling his hearers to get in sync with the way of God, to open their minds and hearts in true conversion. The people want a sign, but to prove what? The authenticity of his word? The true need for them to change their ways? To scare them into obedience? Jesus knows that a response to the word he preaches must be made freely in faith, and not because of coercion. God is a total respecter of human freedom. If the people of Nineveh freely chose to repent at the words of the stranger, Jonah, no dazzling sign is going to win them over. Signs and wonders produce confused emotions, fear, argumentation, and a desire of more (which is never quite enough). Faith is a not a response to evidence, but an openness to relationship. Jesus will not offer any sign to validate his word; he firmly points to the story of Jonah, which his listeners knew well from their childhood. Their choice is to remain in their evil, that is, their stubbornness of heart, or to believe and freely repent.
 
Today's psalm response captures the point well: "A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn." The word proclaimed by the Church during Lent is a call to repentance, to re-seek the ways of God's truth and goodness. Believers and non-believers alike know that word; it tugs at the freedom of our hearts. The word does not come to us with threat or evidentiary proof, but it does speak to us in the depth of conscience. Hardness of heart and rejection of God's truth may be our personal stance, but such is not God's will. Even though we may not live in Nineveh of old, a new and greater-than-Jonah speaks to us this Lent.
 
Points to Ponder and Pray
 
Am I willing to let God's word proclaimed by the Church call me to repentance? What areas of sin and selfishness am I not willing to turn over to the Lord? In what situation is God asking me to play the role of Jonah?
 
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Từ khóa: Lc 11:29-32, mc1, sam-hoi, duc-tin,

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