Wednesday February 16, 2005 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 something that is truly extraordinary, that is, the repentance of the people of Nineveh. When they heard the message of Jonah and they believed him (which was pretty extraordinary in the first place) then they turned from their evil ways. They proclaimed a fast. They were to sit in sackcloth and ashes, and they were to call out to God. For three days, they did this. If we think about ourselves, we think we are doing something heroic if we do not eat lunch; these people, for three days, consumed neither bread nor water, and they prayed and they cried out to the Lord. This was an entire city. I am sure there were certainly people there who did not do what they were commanded to do by the king, but certainly the majority did.
We see in this an example of what we are called to. And we hear what Our Lord in the Gospel says regarding these people, that on the Day of Judgment the people of Nineveh will arise. In other words, they turned their lives around not just for three days because they thought that their city was going to be destroyed and they were all going to perish, but if they are going to arise on the Day of Judgment and condemn the present generation, obviously they went the right direction. They had to turn their lives around, not only for the moment but for good.
If we think about our own situation, when Our Lord comes into this world and He talks to the people and tells them that His own generation was an evil generation, I think we recognize that we are far worse than they were in ancient Jerusalem. We have some of the same problems and we have a lot of them that are far worse than they had back then. So if Our Lord were standing before us right now, He would tell us the exact same thing: This is an evil generation. And He tells us that He Himself is the sign. If the people of Nineveh were going to repent because Jonah had told them what was going to happen, when we recognize that Our Lord has risen from the dead, how much more should we repent? How much more should we recognize what we have done? We have crucified God, and He Himself has risen from the dead and He is the One Who will condemn the present generation.
Now that does not mean that everyone in the present generation is to be condemned; those who are going to do the Will of God, of course, will not be. So we have that choice that we have to make. And if we are going to make the choice, it means to put it into practice, to live what it is that we profess. If we believe in Jesus Christ, if we believe in Who He is and what He has done, it calls us to repentance. The word repentance (in Greek, metanoia) means “to turn around.” It is to have a conversion. It is not just to say, “Oh, I’m sorry,” and then keep going and doing the things that we were doing before. It means making an about-face and getting ourselves on the right track and living the way that we know we are supposed to. That is what Our Lord is asking of us.
Otherwise, when we look at what the Queen of Sheba did, going a long distance to try to meet Solomon to obtain wisdom, when we look at what the people of Nineveh did when they heard what was going to happen to them, we too have been told what is going to happen, we have Someone greater than Solomon right in front of us right now, we have Someone greater than Jonah right in front of us right now, and yet how much do we pay attention to Him? How much does it really mean to us? If the people of Nineveh and the Queen of Sheba were going to make the effort that they made, how much more if we have One greater than Jonah here; how much greater should be the effort that we make to be able to hear His wisdom, to be able to hear His call to repent, to accept it, to allow it to enter deeply into our hearts, and to change our lives in accordance with that call.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.