The first reading today is from the book of Jonah, a story familiar to most of us. It’s a good meditation on two great Lenten themes: fear and mercy.
Jonah is given an assignment from God: go to Nineveh and straighten those people out. The people of Nineveh are, frankly, a mess, and Jonah has to put the fear of God into them, so to speak. Once Jonah gets to Nineveh, his preaching (first a message of fear and then of mercy) gets a terrific response.
Diane Jorgensen, at Creighton University’s Online Ministries, talks about these themes of fear and mercy:
We are so like Jonah, desiring goodness and prosperity for ourselves and others, and yet also wanting “evil doers” to be punished. Why should terrorists, criminals, selfish people, druggies (name any group you despise) receive the same measure of mercy as I do? It offends our sense of justice and fairness. Pope Francis said it well several years ago: ‘I think we too are the people who, on the one hand, want to listen to Jesus, but on the other hand, at times, like to find a stick to beat others with, to condemn others. And Jesus has this message for us: mercy. I think — and I say it with humility — that this is the Lord’s most powerful message: mercy. …God’s mercy…is an abyss beyond our comprehension.’
Today, pray about your relationship with God and others. Do you act and react out of fear or from a place of mercy? Do you fear God’s assessment of you, or are you open to His deep and loving mercy?