Jonah 3:1-10; Luke 10:38-42
When Jonah was sent as a prophet to the people of Nineveh, capital of the evil Assyrian Empire, he did not want to be their prophet, nor did he want God to forgive them when they repented their evil ways. The tale of Jonah is a hyperbolic parable of a prophet's confrontation with the unexpected mercy of God. It is rich with ironic imagery, and set against the backdrop of an entrenched hatred between the people of Israel and their Assyrian oppressors, who destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel in 721 B.C.E.
The Assyrians were noted for their special brand of cruelty against the children of conquered peoples, which included slinging their infants against rocks. Prisoners of war were hideously mutilated, flayed alive, beaten, and deported from their homeland to discourage resistance to Assyrian imperialism. One can imagine that Israel's collective desire for retaliation against such brutal oppressors would have been strong. Cries for vengeance against Israel's enemies are heard in many of the Psalms, understandably painful cries: "Happy the man who shall seize and smash your little ones against the rock!" (Ps. 137:9)
Like Jonah, we are often reluctant to allow God to deal mercifully with our enemies. When all the Ninevites, from the mighty king to the lowliest beast, repented of their evil ways, Jonah sulked outside the city gates, hoping for death. How angry and jealous he must have been at the lavish mercy of God for the enemies of Israel! I have a bit of Jonah's anger and jealousy in my heart when I see how God's mercy can touch and heal those who have hurt me.
The Good News today is that forgiveness, which seems impossible for us at times, is not impossible for God. In the Person of Jesus, God forgives each of us. Jesus' Passion reveals God's own love and forgiveness for both the Romans, who drove the spikes into his flesh, and for Peter, a friend who denied him in his hour of need. We are called to imitate that perfect forgiveness of God, the forgiveness that extends itself to enemies as well as friends, and to develop that habit right in the heart of home and family.
The story of two sisters, Martha and Mary, keeping company with Jesus, teaches me that forgiveness begins at home. Martha and Mary are both servants of Jesus, both busy with hospitality, one providing for his hunger, and one sitting at his feet, hungry for his presence. They both have holy desires and gifts, but it is so typical that one resents the gifts of the other. No doubt Martha's complaint is not about Mary's lack of kitchen etiquette, but about Mary's lavish attention to Jesus. Martha wanted a piece of the holy communion that Mary had with him. Who wouldn't want that?
Those who are closest to us can hurt us the most, so it is in the context of our closest relationships that forgiveness is most necessary. If we are close to God in Jesus, if we are considered God's own beloved children, forgiveness is not optional. Since we must rely on God to forgive us and heal us of our jealousy, we have to be open to the possibility that God will forgive us through others, and others through us. "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." Today, let our prayer be the Lord's own prayer.
By Laura A. Weber