The Book of Jonah has only four chapters and one of the shortest books in the Old Testament but is read at Mass today.
In chapter three the people of Nineveh listened to the message from God given by the prophet Jonah and they proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth and repented. Earlier in the book Jonah had refused to deliver God’s message and call to repentance and ran away. It was only after been swallowed by a large fish that he did what God had asked. Jonah really didn’t like the Ninevites and wanted them to feel the full force of God’s wrath. He wasn’t particularly happy when “God saw their efforts the renounce their evil behaviour and God relented.”
Coupled with this reading we pray part of one of the seven penitential psalms, Psalm 50. The response is “A humbled contrite heart, O God, you will not spurn.” Henry Wansborough says “the real warmth of the psalm comes from the first three words. The first word translated “Have mercy on me” is formed from the same word as for a mothers womb. It is a plea for the unbreakable love of a mother, which can never be denied to her children, whatever they may do – the affinity gendered by her mother carrying her baby for nine loving and expectant months in the womb.” This season of Lent is our opportunity to respond to the God of kindness and compassion. His mercy, kindness, love and compassion is for all of us.
I realise that I need to go deeper into myself and recognise my need to healing and forgiveness. Like the people of Nineveh I need to respond to God’s call. Lord give me the grace to give you a humbled contrite heart.