Wednesday March 12, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier First Week of Lent
Reading (Jonah 3:1-10) Gospel (St. Luke 11:29-32)
In the first reading from the Book of the Prophet Jonah, we hear about Jonah going just a single day’s walk through this huge city of Nineveh, which would normally take three days to walk through. And as he goes just a single day’s walk, announcing that in just forty days Nineveh will be destroyed, the people heard the word that he was speaking, they believed, and they repented. When Our Lord came into this world, on the other hand, and He spoke, the people did not want to believe what He had to say and they did not repent. We recall the words that He spoke to the three cities where He worked the vast majority of His miracles: He condemned them because “even the people of Sodom and Gomorrah,” He said, “would have repented in sackcloth and ashes a long time earlier.”
It may be that what had happened is that the people of Nineveh believed because they could see that there was a clear deadline. All that Jesus was saying was, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” He did not say, “The end is going to come in forty days.” The difficulty is (if that is what someone is looking at) there is no clear point for the end. Jesus told us, in fact, that when the end comes it is going to be like a thief in the night; it is going to be completely unexpected, like lightning flashing from one end of the sky to the next. And so it is something that no one is going to be expecting. In fact, He says, “It will come at a time when people are saying, ‘Peace and security.’” So when they are all caught up in themselves and they are thinking only about themselves and how easy life is, it is at that point that Our Lord is going to come.
It is not at a time when it will be expected. The people are not going to hear from Jonah, “Forty days more and this is what is going to happen,” because we have the Lord. And if we do not want to listen to the words of the Lord, if we cannot see that what we are doing is something that is off-track, something that is wrong, something that needs to be repented of, if we cannot recognize that when we see the life and the example and hear the words of Jesus Christ then we must be completely and spiritually deaf, dumb, and blind. That is why there is not going to be a specific person like Jonah who is going to be able to nail things down for us – because even if there were, we would not listen. The pagans listened to Jonah. The people of God did not listen to Jesus, and the people of God for the most part are still not listening to Jesus.
For our part, we need to look very seriously at the words of the Lord, we need to listen to what He is saying, and we need to put it into action in our own lives. It is not a matter of sackcloth and ashes, but rather it is a matter of simple repentance, to turn around, to change what it is that we are doing, to get rid of the sin, and to live for Jesus Christ. We know that is what we are supposed to do. But the people at the time of Jesus also knew that was what they were supposed to be doing. These were Jewish people; they knew God’s word and they did not want to hear it. The pagans, who had not heard the word of God, they were willing to open their hearts and listen. “Familiarity breeds contempt,” the old saying goes. Do we hold God and His word in contempt because we are so accustomed to it that we do not practice it anymore, that we do not really listen anymore because we think we already know it? That is what we need to look at, to recognize Who it is that is preaching and calling us to repent because the kingdom of God is at hand. We need to reject the evil ways and live a life of virtue.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.