The people of Nineveh believed God

Questions of the Day

“Someone said: what would happen if we treated the Bible like we treat our cell phone? If we always carried it with us; or at least the small pocket-sized Gospel, what would happen?”

“What would happen if we turned back when we forget it, if we opened it more times a day, if we read the message of God contained in the Bible the way we read messages on our cellphones?”

— Pope Francis, remarks before the Angelus, Sunday, March 5, 2017, Saint Peter’s Square

Scriptures of the Day

Old Testament: Jonah 3:1–10

The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time:
“Set out for the great city of Nineveh,
and announce to it the message that I will tell you.”
So Jonah made ready and went to Nineveh,
according to the LORD’s bidding.
Now Nineveh was an enormously large city;
it took three days to go through it.
Jonah began his journey through the city,
and had gone but a single day’s walk announcing,
“Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed,”
when the people of Nineveh believed God;
they proclaimed a fast
and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth.

When the news reached the king of Nineveh,
he rose from his throne, laid aside his robe,
covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in the ashes.
Then he had this proclaimed throughout Nineveh,
by decree of the king and his nobles:
“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.
Who knows, God may relent and forgive, and withhold his blazing wrath,
so that we shall not perish.”
When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way,
he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them;
he did not carry it out.

New Testament: Luke 11:29–32

While still more people gathered in the crowd, Jesus said to them,
“This generation is an evil generation;
it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it,
except the sign of Jonah.
Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites,
so will the Son of Man be to this generation.
At the judgment
the queen of the south will rise with the men of this generation
and she will condemn them,
because she came from the ends of the earth
to hear the wisdom of Solomon,
and there is something greater than Solomon here.
At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation
and condemn it,
because at the preaching of Jonah they repented,
and there is something greater than Jonah here.”

Quotes of the Day

“don’t forget what would happen if we treated the Bible as we treat our cellphone, always with us, always close to us!”

“If we always carried God’s Word in our hearts, no temptation would distance us from the Father, and no obstacle would take us off the path towards good”

— Pope Francis, remarks before the Angelus, Sunday, March 5, 2017, Saint Peter’s Square

One thing that might happen if we opened our Bible more often than we did our cell phone, is that we would understand the source of disharmony between men and women (see Genesis 3), and the unity, harmony, and wholeness found when we are restored in Christ—restored to ourselves, our spouses, our God, even our enemies. We might understand our value in God’s eyes rather than from the amount of our paycheck or the number of online “friends.” We might be more interested in making a gift of self out of love instead of sitting home and sitting out and demanding that someone recognize us. We might look for ways to engage respectfully those with whom we disagree rather than demonize and avoid them. We might allow God to begin to transform us, rather than trying to change others. We might.

Background

Nineveh was the capital Assyrian empire. The Assyrians are known for their cruelty and for torturing prisoners; they deported their captives from the nations they conquered. Israel was “neighbors” with the Assyrians beginning around 850 BC.

The tribes of Israel, which had been united under King Saul, King David, and King Solomon, would divide in 930 BC. The northern kingdom comprised ten tribes and was called Israel; the southern kingdom comprised two tribes, and was called Judah. The northern kingdom would fall to the Assyrians in 722 BC.

God’s people would experience three major deportations from the Promised Land: The first in 605 BC, the second in 597 BC; and in 587 BC, the southern kingdom of Judah would be conquered and exiled.

This is the time of the prophets whom God sent to speak his word to the people. God’s people in the north failed to care for the poor, failed to follow God, and their worship was corrupt, because they had no temple. Elijah and Elisha were the first of the pre-exile prophets, of which there were 13. Others were Amos, Hosea, Jonah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. God sent three prophets to his people during their exile: Baruch, Daniel, and Ezekiel. God sent another three prophets after exile: Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

So what we read in the Old Testament story of Jonah is that the Assyrians—pagans and arch-enemies of the Jewish people—believed God, repented, and experienced God’s mercy. Is it any wonder that Jesus would say to the Pharisees that “prostitutes and tax collectors are entering the kingdom of heaven before you”?

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