Repent and Be Glad
We know this story. Jonah is commissioned by God to go to the great city of Nineveh to preach repentance to them, to get them to turn from their sinful ways. Jonah does God’s will and preaches with simple eloquence, telling the people that because of their sins, they and their great city would be destroyed by the wrath of God “in forty days time.” The people of Nineveh heard the message and in the recognition that comes from abject fear, they repented. The king and all the people, even the beasts, put on sackcloth, fasted, and sat in the ashes. They did this because Jonah had “put the fear of God” in them. They had been like children, who thoughtlessly go about doing things they ought not, hurting others without a sense of guilt, and they had been caught “redhanded” at their mischief. Like children before the righteous anger of their father, they came to know their sins and repented for fear of his just anger and righteous punishment.
The idea of repentance is at the heart of the Gospels too. It is because of our pride and arrogance, our insensitivity toward the sufferings of others, our greeds and our jealousies, our senseless rages and acts of murderous revenge, that the world is the way that it is. Christians, like the people of Nineveh, are called to repentance too, but there is a difference between us and the ancient people of Nineveh. That “difference” is that God did not send Jonah to us, he sent his only begotten Son. We are no longer living in a pre-Christian era. We are living in the Age of Christ now. Jesus came and preached repentance to us too, but he addressed us as adults, as his spiritual brothers and sisters. He showed us what the “good life” really looks like, that it is not wealth, status, or power but is found, rather, in and through loving service to our brothers and sisters. It is, rather, a life of forgiveness of wrongs and mercy in justice. He reminded us that we are all brothers and sisters, that all are our neighbors, and yes, even those who, for whatever reason, call themselves our enemies at this moment in time. He showed us the kind of life that was available to us through our repentance. He taught us that happiness is not in things, but in loving one another as he loved us. He modeled the life that a mature Christian, a mature human being can, and ought, to live with and for others. He also demonstrated, clearly, how hard that life is in a world still awash in the foolishness of sin.
Though it is hard, we know that by repenting and by freely, in the knowledge of faith, choosing with our whole hearts, minds, bodies and souls, to follow Jesus Christ, calling others to this happy repentance, we will find our way to happiness, both here on earth and in heaven. Unlike the people of Nineveh, we are no longer children moved to repentance only by the fear of righteous punishment. We are called now to live as responsible adults, moved by an adult faith rooted in the knowledge of the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Let us, then, repent and be glad. In Jesus’ name. Amen!