Wednesday of the First Week in Lent
When I read the account in Jonah of how the city of Nineveh was so large that Jonah took three days to get through it, I think back to the urban hikes that one of the Jesuits at Fordham University used to lead from the Bronx to the southern tip of Manhattan. Even that only takes the better part of a day. So, when I think of Nineveh, I think of a truly massive city, larger (in terms of land, anyways) than New York City, repenting so quickly at the order of the king. This is truly a strange sight.
Part of what makes this repentance, spoken of favorably by Jesus in today’s gospel, so strange is how swiftly the king declares that the fasting needs to occur. I cannot imagine a mayor of New York (or any other civic leaders, really) hearing a preacher and then ordering the entire area to repent. At the heart of this repentance is that the king takes God so seriously, and presumes that God will immediately perceive the actions of the city, perhaps even having mercy on them. The king is amazingly matter-of-fact when he says “Who knows, God may relent and forgive.” God’s presence is something genuinely felt in day to day life for the Ninevites. As we seek to repent of our own sins this Lent, cultivating that felt presence of God in our lives is an indispensable element in that repentance.