When we think of the word repent, what do we think of? It may remind us of the biblical admonition: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!” Or it may bring to mind the beauty of confession, penance, and reconciliation. But in verses 9 and 10 of the 3rd chapter of the book of Jonah, repent is used twice.
First in verse nine when the king of Nineveh states perhaps acts of contrition will cause God to repent (NAB: “relent”). And then in verse 10 it says God does repent. What is it God is doing here? Is God fooled, or worse, manipulated by what humans do? And can the perfect Creator of a good world have remorse for wrongdoing? What the author of Jonah seems to convey is how one can change one’s mind - to look at something through a new lens - to adopt an attitude or way of living that is rooted in grace but begins something new. So when we read the king’s words, and more importantly what God did, we can think about the fact that what God is doing is beginning a revitalization of the Covenant with humans as freely acting participants. Thus, growing the definition of what it means to be the People of God. The Ninevites were not Jews, but Assyrians; not members of the chosen people, but a group of humanity which was ready to adopt the way of the People of God: thereby, accepting the invitation of God to join in a regenerated existence, in a rejuvenated world. All, who change their minds and freely participate in the new life granted by a relationship with God that is grounded in humility and asking for mercy; will receive the beatitude of our heavenly Father’s steadfast love. God’s repentance affirms that the Lord looks at us anew on account of grace when we repent. Because while Jonah shows the way of repentance for becoming the People of God, Christ has established how we each become a member of the Communion of Saints. “Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.” (Luke 11:30)
Falvey Memorial Library