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The destruction (?) of Nineveh

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Feb 29, 2012

At Mass this morning, the homily brought me a nice new Lenten insight. Jonah--a prophet assigned by God to tell the truth--delivered his message quite plainly: "Yet forty days, and Nin'eveh shall be overthrown!" Not “might” be overthrown or “could” be overthrown, but “shall” be overthrown. There was no element of uncertainty in Jonah’s prophecy.

But 41 days later, Nineveh was intact—much to Jonah’s displeasure. What happened?

Look again. Nineveh was overthrown—by the repentance of its own people. The people and the buildings remained, but the corruption that had been the salient feature of the city was gone. The old Nineveh was gone and a new city had taken its place.

It makes no sense to pretend that this was a simple process, like throwing a switch. A community steeped in sin does not give up its vices easily. This was a wrenching experience for Nineveh, perhaps just as painful as a military defeat or a natural disaster. The people were humiliated, and the process was undoubtedly violent. Call it “creative destruction” if you will, and celebrate the results. But don’t doubt that something of Nineveh was destroyed.

Lent isn’t fun. It’s a painful process to tear away from old habits, give up familiar comforts, make extra efforts in prayer and charity. No pain, no gain. If we reach Holy Week as thoroughly transformed as the people of Nineveh, we’ll be doing well. But remember, if we do that, our lives will be overthrown.


Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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