The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, "Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you."
So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days" walk across. He began to go into the city, going a day's walk. And he cried out, "Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.
When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: "By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish."
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
In your compassion blot out my offence.
O wash me more and more from my guilt
and cleanse me from my sin. (R./)
A pure heart create for me, O God,
put a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
nor deprive me of your holy spirit. (R./)
For in sacrifice you take no delight,
burnt offering from me you would refuse,
my sacrifice a contrite spirit.
A humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn. (R./)
When the crowds were increasing, Jesus began to say, "This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation. The queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here! 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!
The Book of Jonah re-echoes thoughts from earlier books of the Bible. The pensive thought of the Assyrian king, "Who knows God may relent and forgive?" echoes earlier texts like the penitential prayer in Joel 2:14. The inspired author of Jonah had meditated so long on earlier prophecies that his preaching and writing became like a tapestry of biblical passages.
This author was deeply frustrated at Israel’s hardness of heart. Why do they, his own people, with their rich heritage of faith, refuse to reform their ways and respond to God with honesty and justice, with prayer and hope? "Look," Jonah says, "the pagans, even the worst of them, the cruel Assyrians, are more ready to improve than my own people!"
In passing Jonah draws attention to the kindness of strangers, such as the sailors who did not want to throw him overboard. He sees goodness in unlikely places, and change of heart where it was least expected. That is how Jonah’s people regarded the Assyrians. The same resonance today might attach to such words as Stalinist or Nazi, paedophile or ISIS terrorist!
The basic message of Jonah is, there’s always hope! While life lasts we must never lose hope in others or indeed in ourselves. Things can improve, in the personal or international scene, xxto resolve tensions in places like Ukraine, Congo or Syria, or hardships in Yemen and Venezuela, and the perennial risk posed by nuclear weapons and climate change. Surely conversion can take place. If the pagans of Nineveh came to believe in God and changed their ways, there is hope for all of us! On seeing the repentance of the Ninevites, God showed them mercy. If such repentance is possible, how can we give up hope in our time?
Jesus draws on the example of Jonah when announcing that the time of salvation is now. . . so that like the people of Ninive we should eagerly grasp the grace of the present moment and so draw near to God.