Sunday, March 8, 2015

Proud Nineveh!

"For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!" (Matt. 12:40-41)

Lent has us again preparing to celebrate the Lord's Resurrection at Easter, His victory for us sinners over sin and death. We are called to repentance, that through the merits of the Son of Man lifted high upon the Cross we might be saved from everlasting death. Our pride, our self-sufficiency has to go.

Thanks to ISIS, the prophet Jonah has become a recurring image or theme in my this year's Lenten meditation. Not that many months ago, they blew up with powerful explosives Jonah's tomb enshrined in an ancient church and mosque; this last week they bulldozed the archaeological park and museum dedicated to ancient Nineveh. Hence I am partly framing my Lent in terms of Jonah preaching repentance to the great city of Nineveh. Sadly, this time there was neither prophet nor grace period to save the great city from the specific threat of ISIS. Even more sadly, no one in the world seems ready to take Jonah's place in God's name, to try and save the Christians of that region from total destruction at the hands of this terrible scourge.

While evidence of true repentance is certainly a matter of the heart and not that quantifiable, God recognized the depth and sincerity of the repentance in sackcloth and ashes of the Ninevites and He alone, Who knows the heart, will judge the sincerity of our sorrow for sin and our readiness to change. Even so, I cannot insist on this imagery; maybe God has already pronounced judgment and our Nineveh window of opportunity has forever closed; maybe our time for repentance has long passed. I worry that the model for our world might rather be that of those little "hell holes" of Sodom and Gomorrah as opposed to proud Nineveh which, when admonished by the preaching of the prophet Jonah, did turn to the Lord in repentance.

Two indicators in particular cause me that worry of not qualifying for the mercy shown to repentant Nineveh: 1. The seeming helplessness of the Western world to counter violent aggression from without (witness Ukraine abandoned by an otherwise occupied or preoccupied West); 2. From within the Catholic Church itself, a blase' refusal on the part of the hierarchy, in particular, to face and challenge dulled consciences, to reform lives, practices and structures.

It could very well be that the issue of countering aggression to save society from tribulation falls outside the norm or imagery of Jonah. Maybe too St. Joan of Arc and St. John of Capistrano, or St. Bernard of Clairvaux for that matter, or St. Louis were anomalies, but I think not. Sanctity is not pacifist or accommodating in the face of genuine evil, as it goes about enslaving and destroying. Good forest management is a matter of husbandry. Great forest fires come about through our neglect and put us at peril. A certain amount of controlled burn-off is intended or needed to prevent the great conflagration. Early in my time in Trinidad, news stories in the paper about grand old mango trees falling on houses, causing damage and injury, caused me to ask questions and then to react by removing an orchid-laden old tree hunched over my house and which was overdue to take its leave from this world. Repent? Hear the word of the Lord! In this case, establish the premises and the priorities of a life under the kingship of Christ and simply fight back. If we continue to live accommodating evil, what we have sown in the field of the flesh will sooner or later reap the whirlwind.

Perhaps I am pressing it a bit with my first indicator, but the godlessness of present-day society, its pride, condemns it as surely as was Nineveh doomed if it had not turned to God in response to the preaching of Jonah. God demanded and received through the preaching of Jonah the repentance of a whole society from greatest to least. There is a general tendency to dismiss such as apocalyptic, when in point of fact it is kerygmatic, it is foundational: "Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.'” [Mark 1:14-15] Society cannot live and prosper other than with and under God.

In terms of the second indicator, I have the impression that at least since last October we, within the Catholic Church, are witnessing and even caught up in a great tug-of-war. With a certain fury, it would seem that the iconoclasm of the '60's and '70's of the last century is making a return, attempting to throw us back into the ambiguity of times which drove the weak of heart out of the fray and away from a Church which neither shepherded nor cared for them. Maybe it is neo-pagan relativism in society pressing home its claims, but I fear rather that hardened hearts within, many in high places, are resisting God's call to Jonah to go and preach at His bidding for the sake of the salvation of that proud city. The storm has caught up with Jonah in his flight from the face of God. We pray he may soon be cast overboard and from the depths, through his own prayer and repentance, be restored to his prophetic mission by God, in His love for His stiff-necked people. 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.'

May we be spared! May the preaching of Jonah resound within the proud city and may people change for the sake of their own salvation and for the sake of the life of the world!


No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.