And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them….When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God repented of the evil which he had said he would do to them; and he did not do it.
Jonah 3: 5, 10
For you take no delight in sacrifice;
were I to give a burnt offering,
you would not be pleased.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God,
you will not despise.
Psalm 50: 16-17
The men of Nineveh will arise at the judgement with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.
Luke 11: 32
. . .
I cannot reflect on the psalm for today apart from its setting in the Mass, as it comes sandwiched between the story of Nineveh’s repentance and Luke’s mention of it. Just yesterday, I was having a conversation about discernment, not just about how to discern (which is tricky enough), but how to cope with the fear that you have failed to discern, that you have acted out of fear instead of faith, or out of selfishness rather than obedience. I could not have done better in that conversation than to respond with these readings. Three things come through clearly:
First: God desires good for creation. God sent Jonah to warn the people of Nineveh that disaster was coming, giving them an opportunity to repent. Jonah’s message was loud and clear. (I know, I know, the still small voice and all that, but God does want us to know, and is quite capable of talking loudly so that we’ll hear.)
Second: God forgives. That’s worth repeating, because we say it all the time, but I am not sure we (by which I mean I) always believe it. God FORGIVES. And God’s forgiveness is not like our forgiveness, which still suffers the hurt and copes with the consequences of the wrong done. God’s forgiveness is creative and substantial. God is making all things new, and our repentance orients us toward that forgiveness.
Third: Because God desires our good, and God forgives us, we don’t need to tie ourselves in knots over whether we have discerned accurately. Our task is to discern faithfully. That means praying and listening, to God–in prayer and through the Scripture–to others, and to ourselves. Here’s where the still small voice is important to remember. By all means, we ought to listen for the prophet. But in absence of the voice crying out, we need to be more still, more quiet. Then we listen for the still, small voice, in faith that God will speak, and that even if we haven’t understood the message clearly, God will be faithful to us and bless us. Even after David’s intentional, cruel and selfish actions, God forgave him and blessed him, and so we ought to hope for the same.