Monday, January 21, 2013
Nineveh lent: A time to question our goodness
The Jacobite Church is following a three day lent known as the Nineveh lent starting today. Many in the church are confused of even the existence of such a lent because it is not associated with the great lent of the church. But there are churches which have conventions during this time as it is seen as a time to re-orient ourselves towards God. The doubt though remains as to whether such a short lent is effective at all?
The answer to this lies in the fact that this is a special lent because of its association with the book of Jonah. It is a lent undergone in a haphazard manner to fulfil certain norms. The gospel reading for today in juxtaposition with the book of Jonah will lead us to some insights to follow. St. John 1:43-51 talks about Philip’s call from Jesus. In his enthusiasm Philip then recounts this encounter with Nathanael. Nathanael questions whether any good can come out of Nazareth?
The parallel to this is the book of Jonah in which God wants Jonah to go preach to the Ninevites so that they may repent. Jonah here also questions the goodness of the people of Nineveh and refuses to obey God. Both Nathanael and Jonah refuse to believe in the goodness of a place and people. The refusal is like a refusal to believe in the goodness of another. The same applies to workers in the church. By questioning the goodness of others we are treading the wrong path.
The other day I was driving and had to stop for a red signal. The person behind me started honking his horn because he wanted to go left even though there was no free left. His incessant honking made me go through great pain to make way for him. He passed with an angry face. I then got a green signal and took the left towards my destination. What I saw pleased me for a moment. The person who had jumped the signal was hauled up by a traffic policeman and was being asked for his documents. For a moment I could not help but smiling or sneering.
Back home I thought whether I had done the right thing. Was I good or was he good? I had not broken any law or done anything bad. I was good. Still I had done something which needed change. My step of making away may have given temporary relief to the person but led to more pain later. Was I more good than him or should I have stood my ground which would have prevented him pain? My goodness started pricking me. Jesus on the other hand reaches out to Nathanael despite his questioning the goodness of his place. God also reaches out to Jonah despite him questioning the intention of God to save the Ninevites.
Christians are caught between being good and bad that they forget the ugly reality of life. One should know that ultimately we are all good but we still need to change. Many sermons tell us we are bad and therefore need to repent and change. But these passages in the bible tell us we are good and still need to change!
The path to change is taken in two different ways by Nathanael and Jonah. Nathanael is impressed by Jesus’ words that he saw him in a vision. Jonah is forced into conforming. Jonah’s fast is a forced one as he was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights. The initial thrust from God albeit forced is essential for those who claim to be good and in this case may even actually be good. Goodness comes from unexpected quarters. It comes to Nathanael from Philip and it comes to Jonah from the sailors of the ship. Even though they eventually throw him out they wait till the end to see whether they can save the ship and everyone in it. Goodness is also seen in the people of Nineveh who make a complete turn around and lent and waste themselves so that God may change God’s mind
The final turn around of both Nathanael and Jonah is note worthy. They both accept what God has in store. Actually speaking the three day lent is difficult for people to understand when they keep looking at it from the perspective of being sinners. Far from this when we start looking at the lent from the perspective of Jonah and Nathanael it becomes a lent which tells us we are good and yet we need to change.
(Excerpts from a sermon preached in St. Mary’s JSO Church, Bangalore on Jan 20, 2013)