At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because at the preaching of Jonah they repented, and there is something greater than Jonah here.”
Some years ago, when my brain was much younger, I memorized the King James Version of the Book of Jonah. It’s only five brief chapters and moves quickly as a story. There is plenty of space for comic interpretation in its telling. I recited it before an audience only once or twice; even for a priest a captive audience is not that easy to find. I preferred the KJV for the majesty of its language and it’s still accessible to the modern hearer.Jesus uses the story as a warning but we can wonder if his audience was amused by his references to the Queen of Sheba and the Reluctant Prophet. Clearly, Jesus is not amused. He fears for “this evil generation” that might be despised by the Queen of Sheba and, worse -- condemned by the Lord.
It is easy to prophesy gloom and doom. There are very few days when good news completely overwhelms grim fears of the future. Demagogues exploit that unease; a fearful populace readily consumes their half-truths and distortions. He only needs to say what “the enemy” might do or might be capable of.
But the future rarely unfolds as badly as the pessimists expect; somehow we muddle through, our hopes intact. We're still more likely to be struck by lightening or drive over a collapsing bridge than to be assailed by a terrorist.
What does Truth say to us today, in these scripture passages?
During Lent we should take the warnings to heart. We need not expect that “The End is Near;” but we should act as if it might be. We should not close out our bank accounts and give everything to the poor, but we might reconsider tithing. Knowing that most medical dollars purchase only a six week extension of life, we might update our Advanced Directives. We might take a long look at our consumption of food, entertainment and fossil fuels and ask if this “life style” reflects God’s mercy to the least among us.
Whether the end comes tomorrow or a thousand years hence, Justice will come, the unfortunate consequences of sin are upon us, and Mercy has already overwhelmed us.