In the first reading we heard about Jonah the prophet. As you probably remember, Jonah was the reluctant prophet of God that was thrown into the sea and swallowed by a whale before being spit up on the shores of Nineveh to announce God’s warning to repent. It reminds me of a small boy named Michael. He was in second grade and just as cute as could be. His teacher had all the children sit at her feet for story time and began to teach them a lesson about whales. Just as soon as he heard it, Michael’s hand shot up in the air, waving wildly. The teacher called on him and with spirit and great confidence he blurted out, “Jonah was eaten by a whale!” The teacher calmly said, “No, Michael, although whales are very big, their throats are actually very small and act more like a filter for smaller fish. It is impossible for a person to go through.” Undeterred, Michael proclaimed, “Well, Jonah did! It’s in the Bible and it’s true!” The teacher became very stern and said, “Michael, I don’t care if it’s in the Bible or not, Jonah did not get eaten by a whale because it’s physically impossible! Now that’s enough!” With tears building up in his eyes, Michael said, “Well, when I get to heaven I’m going to ask him.” The teacher smugly replied, “Well, Michael, maybe he’s not in heaven. Maybe he’s in hell.” To which he said, “Well, then you can ask him.”
Of course, the story of Jonah and the whale, a children’s favorite, is not about the scientific anatomy of whales at all. The biblical author was not writing a scientific treatise on whales, they were teaching us about our reluctance to follow God, the good that can be done in a whole nation when we do follow God, and the truth that God is pleased when we acknowledge our sins, repent and return to Him. Do it now, St. Paul tells us, time is running out. The world in its present form is passing away.
Jesus begins his public ministry taking up the words of John the Baptist who was imprisoned for his witness to truth. Jesus proclaimed the gospel of God, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
Jesus says, “Now is the time.” In our Lord was fulfilled all of the promises of God throughout salvation history. The birth of God in the fullness of time sent shock waves around the whole of creation! In the Incarnation event The kingdom of God was realized on earth as it is heaven. What is the Kingdom of God? Jesus uses a lot of stories to tell us what’s it’s like: like a net that catches fish of all kinds, like a king that holds a banquet and invites all people, like a mustard seed planted in the ground that grows and provides shade and rest, like a boy who spurned his father’s love but recognized how far he’d wandered, but came to his senses and returned to his father’s love through repentance and confession.
When I asked my students to tell me what the Kingdom of God is, one boy raised his hand and said, “Well, Mr. Valgos, the Kingdom of God is everywhere that God is king.” Isn’t that beautiful? I’ll never forget that student. The kingdom of God, is everywhere, every place, that life and love, and goodness and truth touch our human experience and reign supreme. Do you believe it? Jesus said that the Kingdom was right here, in our midst; at hand. Believe it!
The kingdom of God is a good morning hug and kiss. It’s a longer than usual hug that warms our heart. It’s kindness and joy. It’s welcoming others and making them to feel like the most important person in the room. The kingdom is my Tia rushing around her simple house to get biscuits and cha when she had visitors. The Kingdom of God isn’t some impersonal thing out there somewhere. Jesus said it’s right here. If only we would believe it and make it so.
Jesus sends out his disciples and says go out into the towns and villages, cure the sick, heal the lame and when you do, tell them, “The Kingdom of God is at hand for you.” (Lk 10:9) That’s very personal, isn’t it? Jesus wanted his disciples to know that they have the power to transform the whole world, one act of kindness at a time. Make the kingdom of God really present today. Believe in that Good news. Share that good news…but first, repent. That’s the proper order. The kingdom is at hand. Repent and believe in the good news.
Repentance is first. Without repentance there is no transformation–there is no change. Repentance is what saved the Ninevites! That’s the message of Jonah and the whale! It’s about changing one’s ways! It’s about seeing how far we have grown apart from God–from life and love. It’s about coming to the sad awareness that we have failed to be truthful, we have been hurtful, selfish, self-centered, angry, bitter, divisive. It’s about waking up and looking in the mirror and finally admitting how far we’ve fallen, how ungodly our life has become, and making a commitment to change our ways. It’s about confessing and returning to the Father’s love.
Jonah gave the Ninevites 40 days. They heard the call. They repented in sackcloth and ashes and were saved. Their country was saved. Will we hear Jesus’ call? Will we repent? Will we and our country return to making God the King of our life, our family, our workplaces, our streets? The kingdom starts when we believe it. It starts with us when we believe and repent. Only then can we share it with others. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in this good news!