In Jonah 3:1-10 The Ninevites hear Jonah’s message and repent. Their king proclaims a time of repentance. Jonah, the reluctant prophet, will resent God’s mercy toward them. Unlike Jonah, we know that our God is always merciful and compassionate. God is nonviolent, in spite of First Testament anthropomorphisms. He sends prophets to call us to justice and mercy. We are to be compassionate as God is compassionate. We just have to turn to God and we will be saved. We will be healed. We will be made whole. We need to break out the sackcloth and ashes and turn toward God.
Luke 11:29-32 says that the people are looking for a sign. They want proof that Jesus is who he says he is. They are not unlike us. When we seek God and encounter darkness and emptiness, we want signs—signs that God is present to us and acting for us. Jesus calls us to deep faith. Jesus calls us to go beyond signs and convincing evidence. Jesus calls us to peel back the layers and find God in the most ordinary things. Jesus is greater than Solomon. The queen of the south will condemn us because we miss the wisdom message of Jesus. The Ninevites will condemn us because we fail to repent when we hear Jesus’ message.
Thomas Merton heard Jesus’ message loud and clear. He repented. He fled to the solitude of Gethsemani only to realize that he was still one with all people. He was still very much in solidarity with the world. Immersed in prayer, contemplation and writing, Merton called an evil and adulterous generation to repentance. He called upon us to repent of the sins of consumerism, racism, militarism, and nuclear deterrence.
Forty years later we still have not repented. We eschew nonviolence and resort to security measures. We fail to believe that our only security is in the nonviolent love of Jesus. We need to repent at the preaching of Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Daniel Berrigan, Franz Jagerstatter, Hildegaard Goss Mayr, Ernesto and Fernando Cardenal and Oscar Romero. What a cloud of witnesses to God’s nonviolence and mercy!
In the Office of Readings, Bishop Aphraates reminds us that Jeremiah called upon us to circumcise our hearts. Our hearts are circumcised by the two-edged sword which is the word of God. God has spoken to us through these modern day Jeremiahs. We need to repent, don sackcloth, and listen to the word of God they proclaim so that our hearts may be circumcised. We need to repent of consumerism, racism, militarism, sexism, nuclearism (Sorry GWB), and classism. We are all sons and daughters of the Living God.
Prophets today are calling us to Lenten repentance. John Dear writes:
Lent is a time to hear Jesus’ call to repent from our participation in systemic injustice and to welcome God’s reign of justice and peace with all our hearts. His call to repentance certainly means turning away from personal sin back toward his grace, but it also includes turning away from social, national, global institutionalized sin.
Jesus wants us to reject the systemic injustice that kills millions around the planet. He wants us to change our lives, to start down a whole new path of love, service, nonviolence, and peace.
We pray for the people of Japan and try to alleviate their suffering. The tragedy is not a punishment from God but it is a wake-up call for us. Greed and consumerism drive us to want more than we need. Getting more than we need increases the demand for more energy. We turn to nuclear power plants for “cheap” power when we know in our hearts that such plants can never be totally safe.
Again, John Dear:
Our Gospel calls us to renew ourselves, to serve those in need, to do what we can to relieve human suffering, to stand with those in pain, and to join Jesus’ grassroots, nonviolent campaign to resist systemic injustice.
It teaches the bottom line truth that every human life is equally valuable, that we should not support sociopathic systems that allow “collateral damage” or mass starvation or relievable disease or nuclear destruction.
Part of Lent’s turning back to God and God’s way means standing with the distraught, the grieving, the suffering people of the world as best we can. And so we mourn for our Japanese sisters and brothers, and everyone from Haiti to Afghanistan, and try to support them as best we can.
In another arena, evidence is now mounting that Lenten fasting can help reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Livestock actually accounts for 18% of the harmful gases in the atmosphere—carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. Cows are methane factories! Total emissions from all transportation equal 15% of the total emissions. Obviously our mass production of food and the global distribution system accounts for a large part of the transportation emissions. The food production, distribution and consumption system is rift with systemic injustice—inhumane conditions and treatment of migrant workers, brutal production systems for livestock, the unavailability of nutritious food for poor people just to mention a few. What we drive and what we put on our forks have implications for our care of Planet Earth. (Anna Lappé, Diet for a Hot Planet)
Merton always cautions us to look at the evil in our own hearts first. What am I doing to contribute to and benefit from systemic injustice? How must I repent this lent? One Greater than Solomon isspeaking to us. Are we listening?