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Nineveh was home to the terrorists of the ancient world. Once they went on a campaign and swept through a gaggle of cities like a group of school bullies, telling the inhabitance to give over their lunch money. They finally descended upon the Jewish city Lachish, without a doubt the place you want to be during an invasion. The city had the best defense and was considered the model of security against creeps like the Assyrians. The enemy had to climb up a hill, and then, break down the city gate. Then, they would have to walk single file down a narrow hallway to a second door (yes, there are two walls protecting this city). They had to do this while protecting themselves from a shower of spears and arrows. It is almost impossible to lay siege to this fortress. I say “almost” because the Assyrians somehow got in. When they breached the city they killed the woman and children in front of the husbands, and then led the men into slavery. Almost unforgivable.

Then God said to Jonah, “Go to Nineveh and preach.” Jonah said, “I’m not going. I know exactly what is going to happen. I will preach. They will seek your forgiveness, and you will give it to them because you are kind and compassionate, slow to anger, and rich in kindness. I will have no part of this.” So he took off in a boat and sailed in the opposite direction. There was a storm and he still said, “I’m not going.” He landed in the water in the middle of the sea and he thought, “I will die so I will not have to go to Nineveh.” But God saved Jonah by sending a whale to swallow him. The fish swam to shore and spit him out. Actually, the Hebrew version says that the whale “vomited,” suggesting that the rebellious prophet made the poor whale sick to its stomach.

There on the shore, Jonah told God that he would go. So Jonah preached in Nineveh the worst homily you will ever want to hear: “In forty days Nineveh will be destroyed.” It was only six words long. There was no mention of God, mercy, and no advice to give them for their bleak state. Yet, all of that is implied in the “forty-days.” Otherwise, God would have destroyed them without a warning. Immediately, the Ninevites, from the king down to the pet cat, turned to God.  

Think about that for a moment.” Forty-days is a procrastinator’s dream. Your tax returns are due in forty-days. What are you going to do? Forget about the taxes, it can wait. Your professor assigns you a paper on the cognitive categories of Immanuel Kant, and it is due in forty-days. What do you do? Anything but the paper; it can wait. Christmas is in forty-days and you have cards to send and presents to purchase. What do you do? Everything but that. The Ninevites have forty-days, yet they immediately put on ashes and do penance. So why did the Ninevites respond immediately? They needed the mercy of God now.

We now turn to the Gospel and we see Jesus, like Jonah, preaching that the kingdom of God is at hand, “repent and believe in the Gospel.” What does that imply? That God is kind and merciful and we need that mercy now.

I see the doctor for my physical every two years. It should be every year but time goes by so fast that I forget. My appointment is usually about fifteen minutes. There will be a day, however, when the doctor may say, “Peter, we need to talk about something,” and on that day I will need to see the doctor immediately and often. We are like that with God. We get so caught up in our day that time goes by and we end up checking in with God every so often. But today Jesus gives us a message that changes that. Jesus implies that God is merciful and we need that immediately.

The Ninevites had a reason to need God’s mercy and they turned immediately. So do we. That is why turning to God in the future is not an option. God needs to be in our lives now and often. 

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