Jesus and Satan were having a contest on computer programming for life in the world. Jesus sent questions to the Vatican, bishops and church leaders around the world. Satan sent his question to the Center for Civil Liberty, Pro-choice Advocate groups, Abortion Clinics, Las Vegas, Casinos, Night clubs. They had been going at it for days and God was tired of hearing all of the bickering. Finally God said, "Cool it! I am going to set up a test that will run two hours and I will judge who does the better job. "
So Satan and Jesus sat down at the keyboards and typed away. They moved the mousse, did spreadsheets, and wrote reports, sent faxes and e-mails with attachments. They downloaded. They did some genealogy reports. They made cards. They did every known job. But just before their time was up, lightening suddenly flashed across the sky, thunder clapped, the rain poured and of course, the electricity went off.
Satan stared at his blank screen and screamed every curse word known in the underworld. Jesus just sighed. When the power came back on, each of them restarted their computers. Satan started searching frantically and screamed, "It's gone! It's all gone! I have lost everything!"
Meanwhile, Jesus quietly started printing out all of his files from the past two hours of diligent work. Satan observed this and became irate. "Wait! He cheated! How did he do that?"
God shrugged and said, "Jesus saves."
This is the nature of our God. This is Jesus' personality. He saves.
The Call from the Leader
One day Jesus was walking along the sea shore. He saw two fishermen, Peter and Andrew, who were throwing their fishing nets out into the sea. Jesus called out to them, "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men. " That is what Jesus is about. He saves. And he recruits other people to help him saving the world. Jesus went a little farther and he saw two more men, James and John, sitting in their boat mending their nets. Jesus called out to them and the Bible tells us that they left their boat and followed Jesus. Peter, Andrew, James and John follow Jesus to save the world. (vs. 19-20).
And Jesus began to preach his message, "The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!"
The whole of scripture is a continuous invitation to repentance and to believe in the Good News so that we can be saved.
Repentance means to turn away from those things that are displeasing to God, those things that lead us as well as others to death.
Believing in the Good News means to believe in God's boundless love and mercy.
Manifestation of God's Mercy
The story of Jonah in the first reading is a good example about God's mercy and God's willing to save. Our God is gracious and compassionate. He is gracious and compassionate even to those who do not deserve his grace and compassion.
God wants Jonah to go to the wicked city of Nineveh. Jonah did not want to go. He did not want to go to that land we now call Iraq and to that city we now call Baghdad and announce before its citizens God's judgment upon them for their wickedness. God's judgment was that in forty days from the time he spoke God's word to them they and their great city would be destroyed.
Why didn't Jonah want to go to Nineveh?
Was it because Jonah didn't want to see Nineveh being destroyed? No.
Was it because Jonah afraid for his own life - afraid that the citizen of Nineveh would kill him? No! Not at all. So why did he run away?
In fact, the Book of Jonah tells us that he did not fear death at all. Instead, he was more than willing to sacrifice his own life to save the lives of others, to save the lives of the men on the ship he was on when he was running away attempting to not do what God had told him to do.
Jonah didn't want to proclaim God's judgment upon the wickedness of the City of Nineveh; because he knew from the very beginning that God was "a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. "
And Jonah firmly believed that Nineveh deserved to be destroyed for its many sins. He feared that, though God had declared that Nineveh was evil and was to be destroyed, God would end up being too compassionate, too loving, and too merciful. If Nineveh repent - and instead of destroying them, God would have mercy on them and not punish them for their sin. And it happened exactly as Jonah had thought. They did repent and God did change his mind and forgave them.
Jonah pouts because God cares for those he thinks God should not care about. He pouts because those who have done evil things, wicked things - receive mercy.
"The time has come, " Jesus says as begins his work among us.
"The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!"
Jesus invites everyone to conversion, saint and sinner alike. He is calling us to join him to save the world by showing our compassion and offering our forgiveness to others.
Rev. John J. Tran Kha