The first Reading which is taken from the Book of Prophet Jonah, (Jonah 3:1-5.10), narrated how Prophet Jonah was sent by God to preach to the people of Nineveh. The city of Nineveh, which had a population of about one hundred and twenty thousand people, was the prosperous capital of the Assyrian empire. It was situated in modern day Iraq, on the east of the Tigris River, opposite the modern city of Mosul, Iraq’s second biggest city.
When Jonah was commanded by God to go and preach to the Ninevites, he initially refused and tried to wander away. He was not interested in preaching to the people of Nineveh because he did not want them to benefit from God’s mercy since they were the Israelite’s enemies. In Jonah’s time, there were religious and political dichotomy between the Ninevites, (Assyrian empire), and the Jews. The Jewish religion was monotheistic whereas the Assyrian religion was polytheistic with Ashur, (the god of war), and Ishtar the goddess of fertility being the most prominent. Secondly, the Jewish kingdom rivalled Nineveh. Eventually, the Assyrian empire would start her assault on Northern Israel in 740BC, and would finally pillage it in 722BC, (1Chr 5:26; 2Kg 17:5-6). Hence, Northern Israel, with her capital in Samaria, became a vassal state of the Assyrian empire. However, Southern Israel with her capital in Jerusalem was able to repel the Assyrian aggression, (2Chr 32:22).
After Jonah’s initial reluctance, he did go to preach in Nineveh. The Assyrian empire was known for her ruthlessness. He preached that unless the inhabitants of Nineveh repented of their evil behaviour, the city of Nineveh was heading for destruction. The residents of Nineveh were touched in their hearts by the message proclaimed by Jonah, and they repented and made atonement for their sins. They also came to believe in the true God. We read that, “God saw their efforts to renounce their evil behaviour. And God relented: he did not inflict on them the disaster which he had threatened.”
This leads us to the Gospel of today. God sent Jesus into the world with the mission to show us how to be truly human. To be truly human is to be conscious that we are created in the image of God, (Gen 1:26-27). To be truly human is to come to the awareness that God’s plan for us is to be with him eternally after our earthly existence.
Jesus began his ministry by bringing to our consciousness that we are in God’s appointed time; hence, the kingdom of God is close at hand. He invited us to repent and believe in the Good News, (Mk 1:14-20).
In the person of Jesus Christ, the kingdom of God or the reign of God has been made manifest. However, this reign of God will be brought to completion only at the end of time when Christ hands over every authority and power to God so that God will be all in all, (1Cor 15:28). Nevertheless, one thing that has no place in the kingdom of God is sin. Sin distorts and destroys the harmony in God’s kingdom. Sin includes the inhumane treatment of people, (citizens or migrants), as we see in documentaries on modern day slavery, hatred of one another, wanton destruction of life and property; intimidation of people and structural injustices, domestic violence, alcoholism and drug addiction.
Jesus began his ministry by inviting us into God’s kingdom and asking us to reject and renounce everything that is contrary to it. He knew that he needed helpers to join him to announce the Good News of God’s kingdom, he therefore chose some disciples in the Gospel of today. Unlike Jonah who was reluctant to go and preach in Nineveh, Simon and Andrew, James and John said, “here I am Lord” and followed Jesus as soon as he invited them to become his disciples. Our faith journey may be different from each other, but the important thing is that we all through our baptism have said yes to Jesus to be part of God’s kingdom!
Fr Chinua Okeke CSSp