The word of the Lord was addressed a second time to Jonah: ‘Up!’ he said ‘Go to Nineveh, the great city, and preach to them as I told you to.’ Jonah set out and went to Nineveh in obedience to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was a city great beyond compare: it took three days to cross it. Jonah went on into the city, making a day’s journey. He preached in these words, ‘Only forty days more and Nineveh is going to be destroyed.’ And the people of Nineveh believed in God; they proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least. The news reached the king of Nineveh, who rose from his throne, took off his robe, put on sackcloth and sat down in ashes. A proclamation was then promulgated throughout Nineveh, by decree of the king and his ministers, as follows: ‘Men and beasts, herds and flocks, are to taste nothing; they must not eat, they must not drink water. All are to put on sackcloth and call on God with all their might; and let everyone renounce his evil behaviour and the wicked things he has done. Who knows if God will not change his mind and relent, if he will not renounce his burning wrath, so that we do not perish?’ God saw their efforts to renounce their evil behaviour, and God relented: he did not inflict on them the disaster which he had threatened.
The crowds got even bigger and Jesus addressed them, ‘This is a wicked generation; it is asking for a sign The only sign it will be given is the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. On Judgement day the Queen of the South will rise up with the men of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and there is something greater than Solomon here. On Judgement day the men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation and condemn it, because when Jonah preached they repented; and there is something greater than Jonah here.’
God saw their efforts to renounce their evil behaviour. And God relented
On one occasion I met a man just released from prison. He had been involved in gang fights and has been guilty of physically hurting people. When I heard that about him, I was initially afraid and drew back from him. Eventually though, through his story, he taught me something – that God is merciful and rewards those who work hard to repent from waywardness.
Being an ex-convict, he was worried that his prison record would render him jobless. At the counsel of a church volunteer, he decided to take cooking lessons and eventually took up a stall at a hawker center. It is a humble set-up, but allows him to provide for his family. He says, “I learnt that the winner isn’t always the strongest one, but the one who can pick himself up when he falls, and by God’s grace do better.” His example is an encouragement to me. It tells me that no matter what failures I may face, as long as I am willing to learn to improve, and work hard as the people of Nineveh did, then I still have the chance for success.
Just as the King of Nineveh took off his robe and put on a sackcloth, perhaps we too can practice abstinence and simplicity, as a way of creating space in our lives for God to work. Where there is space, there can come a clarity of mind and the room to create a fresh and new start. The sins that were before, or the failures that you faced, are wiped away by the efforts to cleanse your soul and your life.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Serene Goh)
Prayer: Dear Lord, blot out my offence and see my good works. Bless the work of my hands.
Thanksgiving: Thank you for second chances. For the mercy of forgiveness and the grace to grant success after many failures.