Wednesday February 20, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier First Week of Lent
Reading (Jonah 3:1-10) Gospel (St. Luke 11:29-32)
You can see from the Gospels that, when Jesus speaks of the sign of Jonah, He is speaking of two different things. On one occasion, He speaks of the sign of Jonah as being a sign for the people of Israel. That is, as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the belly of the earth. But today, He is speaking of the sign of Jonah to the Ninevites. The Ninevites did not know about Jonah being in the belly of the whale; all they knew was that this man from Israel came and preached that the city was going to be destroyed in forty days. The people believed his word and they repented.
Now we have to consider exactly what that would entail. Consider today the President of the United States, for instance, believing if somebody marched through Washington, D.C. saying, "Forty days more and this country is going to be destroyed." They would normally call the psychiatric unit and not believe in something like that and actually turn themselves around. But here was a man who obviously believed in God or at least had some reverence for the divine. They were not Jewish, and that is what makes this such an amazing sign. When Jesus said that Jonah was a sign for the Ninevites, they were pagans. These are people who did not know of the Lord, and yet obviously, as I pointed out, had some sort of reverence for something divine. But they did not know the person of God. Yet when they heard the word of God, they converted.
Now Jesus has said in other places to the Pharisees that "the prostitutes and the tax collectors will enter into Heaven before you do" because when they heard the preaching of Our Lord they converted. And so, it is something that we need to listen to. That is, people who do not know Christ are converting, but what about us? Because we already know the Lord and because we have an idea of the way that the Faith is to be lived, sometimes what we do is we refuse to let it into our hearts. We think that, because we already know it, we do not really have to do too much more. Maybe just a tiny bit of fine-tuning, but really, certainly, nothing major - we have already determined that we believe in Christ. But we need to ask ourselves seriously about that. What would Our Lord say?
If somebody came through today (and we knew that they were not crazy, but that they were from the Lord) and they started preaching, "Forty days more and this place will be destroyed," would you look at yourself and say, "No problem. I've got everything totally under control. My life is in great order. I can stand before the Lord forty days from now and be totally confident that there is no problem with me." Now if you can do that, then all you have to do is maybe tweak it a little bit for some fine-tuning. If, on the other hand, you are like most of us, you are probably going to say, "If I'm going to die in forty days, I'd better get my house in order. I'd better make sure that things are right. And I don't have just a little fine-tuning to do; I have some major work."
Then we had better learn from the Son of Man. As Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so is the Son of Man a sign to this present age. He is greater than Jonah; He is God - not the messenger of God, He is God Himself. And He came down and called us to repent, not to mediocrity, not just to be a lukewarm Catholic: He called us to repent and to live our faith in its fullness.
And so, if we would hear those messages and think that we had better get some things in order, then hear the message now and put things in order because that is what the Lord is asking of us. Not that we are necessarily going to die in forty days, but that we would get our house in order. And not for a selfish reason - because we think that we are going to have to stand before God in a few weeks - but rather, because we love God and we want to serve Him and we want to do what is right and we want to live holy lives. To be in love with Jesus Christ - that is the reason. To do the right thing for the right reason - that is what the Lord is giving us the opportunity to do now: to look at our lives, to listen to His preaching, to repent, and to reform our lives.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.