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“Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed”. So went the cry of the prophet Jonah (pictured above) at God’s command to warn the inhabitants of that massively sprawling city, then the Capital of Assyria, in the 7th century BC to repent or face HIs Divine wrath.
As God told Jonah, as recorded in the Old Testament book bearing the prophet’s name, “their wickedness has come up before me” (Jon 1:2). Jonah at first tried to avoid carrying out God’s desire for repentance and mercy in this case by getting on a ship to avoid having to warn the Ninevites of God’s anger at their misconduct.
Since Nineveh was the capital of Israel’s longtime foe Assyria, Jonah was by no means sympathetic to following God’s order. The prophet only carried it out, as you may remember hearing or reading, after having been swallowed up by a whale, and vomited out onto dry land at God’s behest after 3 days. Only then did Jonah make the long trek through the large city of Nineveh while proclaiming loudly, you guessed it, “Forty days more…”
The veracity of the book of Jonah as having chronicled actual events has been questioned but arguments can be made on both sides of the issue, as discussed on a webpage here. (Interestingly enough, there was an actual case from 1891 where a man was indeed stuck in the belly of a whale!)
Also note that Jesus referenced Jonah’s story referring to Himself as “something greater than Jonah here” in prefiguring what would be His resurrection (Matt 12:41; Luke 11:32).
It is worth noting that in the well-known Douay-Rheims Bible, the authoritative translation of the original Latin Vulgate Bible into English done over 400 years ago, Jonah’s warning cry is more dramatic than that found both in the New American Bible as well as the Ignatius Study Bible. In the Douay Rheims example it reads “Forty days more and Nineveh will be destroyed.”
In the New American Bible and the Ignatius Study Bible it reads “Forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown.” By whom we don’t know, but one can guess it could have been from some rampaging army in a world in which the cycles of conquest and defeat occurred among warring nations. “Destroyed”, however, implies that it could have somehow come from the hand of God.
There is much foreboding news these days, with both Taiwan and Ukraine potential flashpoints for a major war with Russia and/or China that could go sideways, and quite possibly nuclear, terrifyingly quickly.
We have columnists in the media warning that the conflict in Ukraine, for example, could spin dangerously out of control, overshadowing any hopes for peace there anytime soon. However, there is no Jonah-style warning resonating nationwide from anyone, much less worldwide.
And you have to wonder: even if the warnings of those, for example, who have set the Doomsday clock to its shortest proximity to midnight ever, (with midnight representing a nuclear holocaust) were more readily heeded, would our leaders take that opportunity to figuratively “put on sackcloth and ashes” as the king of Nineveh and his subjects did to turn back God’s Wrath? Would they seek peace and prayer?
Or would they continue to turn a deaf ear to such admonitions, as they seem to be doing. Whatever you can say about our current leadership worldwide, they are acting in a manner oblivious to God’s will and His Commandments as they plan a future for humanity merging with technology while they arrogantly seek to be Gods themselves, calling all the shots for us according to their own delusional plans!
Who is uttering the warning cry “40 days more and New York will be destroyed”? Or London? Or Washington DC? Or any number of cities that could suffer a holocaust in a single afternoon from some cataclysmic miscalculation of supposedly incoming missile activity, or perhaps, someday in the not too distant future, an EMP strike from Beijing shutting down our nation’s power supply.
So, as we begin another Lent, itself a 40 day time of repentance, this might be an especially good time to put on our own “sackcloth and ashes”, figuratively speaking, in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving for our church, this nation, and the world!
Considering the era in which we currently live, with wars and rumors of wars, chaos in our cities, and immorality run amok, could there be a better time for us to engage in those three main pillars of this season?
While Jonah helped avert Nineveh's imminent destruction by obeying God’s command to sound the alarm in that vast city, note that he was not at all pleased to see Israel’s enemy Assyria’s capital city spared destruction.
When pondering on how God chided Jonah for his lack of mercy, think about how we all could use His mercy today, and indeed we must ask for it!
We also need to pray for the grace not to let our righteous anger at all the malfeasance we see all around us these days, both in the church and in the world at large, make us wish only that those responsible for this current state of affairs face justice, without praying for their repentance and salvation as well.
I have found it helpful in following our Lord’s admonition to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us to include in my prayers a few people each day who seem to be particularly heinous, in what I call my “Rogues Gallery”.
It is also a good idea to pray for those trying to resist the horrible tide of political correctness in their workplaces, homes, and schools. You can even pray for yourself for strength if you’re trying to be one of them!
This is a good time for us all to do “house cleaning” of our own souls as well, taking our own individual inventories through examinations of conscience like this one and going to confession, as well as offering up sufferings and penances for the salvation of souls, each one of ours as well as those we may not even know!
As St. Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians “now is an acceptable time” to make sure we’re not receiving God’s grace in vain. While Jesus may seem asleep in the boat as the storms rage around us, in staying close to Him in prayer and living a sacramental life as best you can, you have a better shot at His being able to calm the winds and waves of anxiety and even despair in your own soul.
May each of us use this time in Lent wisely to prepare ourselves in receiving Jesus now in the Eucharist and Penance, so that we may be better able to partake of His graces and show His love and mercy to others.
And also, so that whenever the day arrives when we pass from this life, He may greet us with open arms to welcome us to Eternal Life with Him and all our fellow saints in heaven!