13 March 2019
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.’
This is a wicked generation; it is asking for a sign
I shared a cartoon on my Facebook feed last week which garnered quite a few quick ‘Likes’. Basically, it showed three piles of ‘dust’ — ‘Gold Dust’, ‘Star Dust’ and ‘Glitter Dust’. Above each were the respective captions – ‘You May Be Rich’, ‘You May Be Famous’, ‘You May Be Talented’. Then the punchline, ‘But We Are All Dust’, which pointed to a cross made of ash.
As I bore my ‘sign’ proudly on Ash Wednesday, I couldn’t help but wonder how the early Christians would have felt walking around with that brand on their foreheads. I must admit that until my conversion experience, I was quite shy about revealing that cross on my forehead every time Ash Wednesday came around (if I even bothered to go for mass). Today, I would like to challenge all of us to think about the sign as something to confront Satan with. Because when I look around today, I feel more and more that it is the devil himself who is asking to see the sign in order that he does not bother us. Pride, envy, anger, lust, greed… they are all around us in the news and have crept into hallowed arenas that typically should bring joy and hope; for example, in sport, in government and more recently, in our very own church.
It is almost the ‘new normal’ to become desensitized and numb to the array of sins that are played out each and every day around us. We are starting to get used to reading so much bad news that a report about an act of honour, decency or courage is now greatly applauded and shared as if it is some sort of a one-in-a-million occurrence. Have we become so wicked, and have our hearts hardened so much, that we need a sign to remind ourselves of our birthright? Surely not.
And while the sign marks us as sons and daughters of God, what happens when it eventually fades off? Do we carry that imprint on our hearts? Do we, through our good acts, show others around us what it means to be Catholic? Or do we get a reaction of surprise from those who encounter us? It was interesting that when I answered, “It’s Ash Wednesday” to colleagues that expressed concern about the mark on my forehead, more than half seemed to understand what I meant.
So brothers and sisters, how do we ‘sign’ ourselves to others at home, in the office, or out in society? Especially to non-Christians who are curious about why we would walk around with a cross on our forehead. Do we shrink in embarassment? Or do we proudly proclaim what the sign means and why we observe Lent? More importantly, how ready are we to confront sin head-on and say, “Get behind me, for I am a child of God”?
(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)
Prayer: Father, we ask you to give us the courage to stand up to all forms of temptation, firm in the belief that you are rooting for us.
Thanksgiving: We thank you Father, for your gift of Jesus Christ.