March 6, 2019 Jonah 3:1-4:11 Rev. Dr. Alan Meyers
Reading Jonah in the context of Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, I was struck by the prophet’s cry, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4). Lent lasts forty days, also (not counting Sundays). Will you and I be “overthrown” by our observance of this season? That does not sound like a happy prospect.
The notes in my HarperCollins study Bible, however, tell me that there is a double meaning to the Hebrew word here translated “overthrown.” It could also be translated “turned around” or “transformed.” Lent is supposed to turn us around or transform us. Certainly this is what happened to the king and the people of Nineveh: they repented, they “turned from their evil ways” (Jonah 3:10). In a way, they were “overthrown,” as Jonah had promised, that is, their old selves ceased to be, and they became new people. We, too, are called to work on becoming new people during the forty days of Lent.
How shall we become new people? This can only happen by the grace of God. But, depending prayerfully on that grace, we can take our cues from the Scripture readings for today. We can recognize our need of God’s mercy and forgiveness, as the tax collector did, and sincerely ask for it (Luke 18:13), and give thanks that we receive it in Jesus Christ. We can accept helpful disciplines, as the author of Hebrews urges the readers to do, disciplines that overthrow our old selves and build up new selves in the image of Christ. Simply reading every day the Scripture texts and the devotions in this book may prove a helpful discipline, as will praying in response to what we read. We can work on giving up bad habits, especially those that are hurtful to other people. We can try to be more mindful of what God is calling us to be and to do. We can ask the help of the Holy Spirit in all this. May Easter find us overthrown and turned around and transformed, ready to hear the joyful news of new life in the risen Jesus.
Prayer: Lord, please, let this Lent be a time when I am truly transformed, made more like Jesus. Amen.