Joy and Hope
March 28, 2009
God cares who we are, what we do
One of the powerful Lenten metaphors is the figure of Jonah. After resisting the call of God, Jonah finally submitted himself to the Lord’s will and announced the pending doom of the great ancient city of Nineveh because of their great sins. Jonah’s preaching was so persuasive, the whole city, from the king to the lowly beasts of burden, repented in sackcloth and ashes.
This amazing story of the conversion of Nineveh after the preaching of the prophet Jonah is even more so if we read on in the story. Jonah became upset that God should be so benevolent. He was depressed that Nineveh had been spared. “Mad enough to die,” Jonah responds bitterly to the Lord.
Perhaps on some level, Jonah felt like he had been made to look like a fool. Maybe he was convinced that the evil of Nineveh was so great that nothing could compensate for their debauchery. Let me suggest Jonah was shocked, stunned that God was moved. The heart of the Almighty was touched by the meager repentant gestures of his creatures. Jonah could not grasp this because he was unmoved. His heart had hardened. Maybe his experience in the belly of the whale had hardened him. Perhaps he was so persuaded by the message he had given that he saw God’s will as already determined, fixed, unchangeable.
Jonah was not a modern man, but if he had looked at the conversion of Nineveh with modern eyes he would still have been shocked with God’s benevolent change of heart. The conversion of Nineveh could not be rationally anticipated. It was certainly not predictable or statistically foreseeable. The modern Jonah might have also felt like a fool or looked at all of Nineveh as fools for even believing in a God since none of the catastrophe that had been predicted came to be. God’s kindness would have been interpreted as proof of his non-existence or his irrelevance.
Dare we believe that God is moved by what we do? What could that mean when what we do matters personally to God?
Jesus shows us not only how much God cares. Just as significant are the consequences of the personal decisions and actions of Jesus for our salvation. Jesus is, yes, the Son of God but he is also the Son of Mary. As a single human life he moved the heart of his heavenly father. This would have shocked Jonah. It shocked the scribes and Pharisees. It even shocked his own disciples.
God shocked us. He shook us up by choosing to save us through the personal human efforts of his divine Son. Jesus’ humanity reveals to us the powerful potential of human efforts in concert with the heart and mind of God.
That God chose to save humanity through one human life is an amazing, stunning revelation. He loved us so much that the divine became human. He loved us so much he willed that his Son show us how to love him. It is in this incarnational relationship, this divine and human exchange that we are saved. God loves us so much that he chooses to care about what we do.
Now, dare we live with this awareness that God sees and God cares? Though the media may not see much consequence in what any of us may or may not do, that really does not matter. Though we may see ourselves as so insignificant and our own efforts without any merit at all, what does matter is God cares who we are and what we do. The divine is moved by his creation.
This gives great significance to how we live out this Lenten season. Jesus invites each of us to take up the cross with him. All our sincere intentions and earnest efforts become potent possibilities of grace when they are offered in union with the one saving act of the Lord Jesus on the cross.
This is so apparent to us in the celebration of the Eucharist. God dignifies simple words, gifts and gestures with divine significance. We are reverentially aware of the sacredness of our ritual and the powerful connection between what we do around the altar and what Jesus did on the cross. There is a shocking beauty in this sacred mystery. Do not confine this very Catholic, sacramental awareness to just our churches and sanctuaries. We need to resist the temptation to harden our hearts as Jonah did.
Believe that what we do can be an occasion of amazing grace: our fasting, our abstinence, works of charity, simple acts of kindness, unexpected courtesies, rosaries silently offered in front of an abortion clinic, rosaries meditated in the silence of one’s home, grace before meals, Scripture shared among the family, Stations of the Cross in community or alone, and so much more.
Together with the Lord Jesus we can delight the heart of God. As we come to know this and embrace it we will also share in the Lord’s delight. He will become our gladness and joy in the coming Easter season.