The Ashes

Wednesday 21 February 2024 of the 1st week of Lent

Jonah 3:1-10 
The word of the Lord was addressed to Jonah: ‘Up!’ he said ‘Go to Nineveh, the great city, and preach to them as I told you to.’ Jonah set out and went to Nineveh in obedience to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was a city great beyond compare: it took three days to cross it. Jonah went on into the city, making a day’s journey. He preached in these words, ‘Only forty days more and Nineveh is going to be destroyed.’ And the people of Nineveh believed in God; they proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least. The news reached the king of Nineveh, who rose from his throne, took off his robe, put on sackcloth and sat down in ashes. A proclamation was then promulgated throughout Nineveh, by decree of the king and his ministers, as follows: ‘Men and beasts, herds and flocks, are to taste nothing; they must not eat, they must not drink water. All are to put on sackcloth and call on God with all their might; and let everyone renounce his evil behaviour and the wicked things he has done. Who knows if God will not change his mind and relent, if he will not renounce his burning wrath, so that we do not perish?’ God saw their efforts to renounce their evil behaviour, and God relented: he did not inflict on them the disaster which he had threatened.

Psalm 50      A humbled, contrite heart, O God, you will not spurn.

Luke 11:29-32 
The crowds got even bigger, and Jesus addressed them: ‘This is a wicked generation; it is asking for a sign. The only sign it will be given is the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. On Judgement day the Queen of the South will rise up with the men of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and there is something greater than Solomon here. On Judgement day the men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation and condemn it, because when Jonah preached they repented; and there is something greater than Jonah here.’


We can be surprised when we see someone go through an unexpected transformation, especially if their former life has been antisocial, abusive, or violent.  At Christmas i met a Baptist Minister who formerly belonged to a bikie gang, pushed drugs, and was involved in organised crime.  He told me about the change in his life and how it came about, how he came to know Jesus and the influence this had on his life.   We may think a person is completely lost in what is bad, that they are dead to us, but when that person changes, it can be truly amazing.

Jonah was surprised that he was still alive after preaching the message of repentance to the Ninevites. In Chapter 1 we read how he was fearful that these pagan Assyrians would kill him if he followed the commands of God to go there and preach repentance.  So he tried to escape from God and caught a ship to Tarshish, so God arranged for him to be swallowed by the big fish.  In the end he proclaims God’s message to the Ninevites and they didn’t eat him alive but believed in his message and repented with fasting and penance. A truly amazing transformation!!

The Gospel describes Jesus as the “sign of Jonah”: “Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation”.   Jonah was a sign of transformation, as Jesus is for us.  Jonah proclaimed “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown” and the Ninevites changed their hearts, as everyone from the king to the animals sat in ashes.

At the beginning of these forty days of Lent, we too were covered in ashes, as we heard Jesus proclaim to us to have a change of heart.

Jesus in the undeniable Messianic sign of his own Resurrection from the tomb on the third day after his death, shows us that the journey from death to life is always possible, just as Jonah had spent three days in the belly of the giant fish before finally going to Nineveh to accomplish the mission God had originally given him.

May our own hearts break free of their tombs of self-interest, fear, or hurt, so that we may imitate Jesus as a sign of what accomplishes God’s mission in the world. May we be a sign of life rather than death. May our own lives bring amazement to others by the transformation they see in us — no longer clothed in ashes but full of justice, kindness, and courage,