Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wednesday of the First Week in Lent

(Jonah 3:1-10; Luke 11:29-32)

A few years ago a town councilman on Long Island petitioned the U.S. Congress to award posthumous American citizenship to Anne Frank. She was the Jewish girl whose diary helped move the world to condemn the Holocaust. When Anne’s family was hiding in the Netherlands during World War II, their American relatives requested the American government to grant the family admittance to the United States. The request was bureaucratically denied. Eventually the German occupiers of the Netherlands found the Frank family’s hideaway and sent them to a concentration camp where Anne died. Supporters of the Congressional petition said that granting citizenship would be a sign of repentance for American complicity in the Holocaust. Critics of the measure argue that it would be a cheap gesture since it requires no sacrifice on the part of the American people.

Although both proponents and opponents of granting citizenship made good arguments, Congress evidently never voted on the issue. For now let us note how the incident illustrates the call for repentance in the Scripture readings today. Jonah announces God’s wrath toward Nineveh because of its evil ways, and the people there repent. The author of the story emphasizes how sincere and complete the repentance is. Not only commoners but the king and, curiously, even the animals of the city fast and wear sackcloth. In the gospel Jesus calls his generation evil because it refuses to repent of its sins after hearing his preaching.

We too must repent of our sins, not just symbolically but wholeheartedly. This means that we don’t just say we are sorry but mean it wholeheartedly. Our contrition must be accompanied by a sincere attempt to change sinful ways. A young woman once confessed of having sex with her boyfriend. “Will you promise not to have sex with him again?” the priest asked her. “No,” she answered with candor, “I can’t promise that.” The priest then told her that he could not give absolution. Just so, unless we must promise wholeheartedly to stop taking God’s name in vain, talking about others, or committing any other sin, we have not really repented as Jesus calls us to do.