The Ninevites and Us
We may be shocked when we look at what happened in Nineveh. As soon as the king knew what had happened to Jonah, and heard his preaching, he rose from his throne, took off his royal clothes, laid aside his pomp, beauty, and vain pride, and put on sackcloth. All the people put on sackcloth, which is a robe made of goats’ hair, very rough on the skin. He ordered that food should be withheld from everyone, old and young, even the infant at the mother’s breast, and even all the animals. How terrible! It is as if the whole of creation is included in Nineveh’s three days of repentance.
A city with one-eighth of a million inhabitants, all of whom repented, and the Lord forgave them because of the determined collective repentance and the astute leadership of that just and conscientious king, who was able, through his wisdom, to avert the sentence of death from his people. What a wonderful example of the concern and wisdom of the shepherd!
Also, how wide your embrace, dear Lord? It is truly a great wonder! A heretical nation that believed in God as a result of one lecture!
So, it is not because of a sign in heaven or earth that humankind will repent and have its sins forgiven, but through humility, fasting, prayer and meekness of heart before the Omnipotent God!
If only every sinner would realize that his sins are never too great or too many for God’s forgiveness. If the Church only knew what collective repentance should be like, it would sit with its children in sackcloth and humility before God until it attracted forgiveness from heaven, and times of refreshment would swiftly come from heaven as Peter the Apostle mentioned (Acts 3:19)!
Dearly beloved, if the times of refreshment are hindered, then the fault is ours. Nineveh was striding swiftly and surely towards the pit of destruction, but through taking a courageous and honest stand in response to the warning of judgment, it managed to obtain for itself a pardon from heaven.
Oh sinner what do you need? Do you need sackcloth? Do you need dust? What do you need?
If repentance came through silver and gold, if it required a ladder high enough to reach heaven, if it required some physical, intellectual or psychological effort, terrific wisdom or great knowledge to bring down Christ from heaven or to raise him from the pit, we would have to say that repentance is difficult. But Nineveh’s king, people, women, children, and cattle knew the quick way to safety. What is hindering us, making us turn right and left, asking for the advice of old and young alike, while the door of salvation stands open before us and multitudes from every people, tongue and nation are already entering it!
Nineveh sets us an example of how simple and sincere repentance is able to open up the doors of heaven and bring forth a total amnesty for the inhabitants of a whole city, without exception, a city which the Bible tells us did not know its right from its left.
Dear brethren, as we approach the holy forty days we need hearts like those of the king of Nineveh and his people. The mere mention of the fasting cattle bent over their troughs is a reproach, because within my own soul, I find vicious haughty beasts with the conceit of a lion among deer. How many instincts I have within my soul that need to be humiliated by hunger and sackcloth! The sight of Nineveh’s cattle standing in pain by their troughs and the oxen fallen with hunger scares my desires and pleasures. O city of the Lord, how full my soul is with these things! How wonderful it is for my soul to sit like Nineveh in holy sackcloth and ashes! During these holy forty days it is good for you, my soul, to bind all your fierce, animal instincts, and not to think you are the daughter of the great city that knows its right from its left, because sin is not overcome except by him who has tasted that which Nineveh tasted!
By: Fr Matta El-Maskeen (Fr Matthew the Poor)
From: St Mark Monthly Review