The Destruction of Nineveh
Homily for Friday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
I would not be at all surprised if you were to say that you did not recognize the Scripture passage which we read today from the book of the Prophet Nahum. Within the first eleven days of August, we Franciscans celebrate five feast days – the Feasts of our Lady of the Angels, the Transfiguration, St. Dominic, St. Lawrence, and St. Clare. Consequently, the Scriptures for Friday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time our often omitted.
The book of the Prophet Nahum is only three chapters long and covers only one subject. The very first verse of this book summarizes the entire contents of it. “An Oracle concerning Nineveh… The book of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh.” This minor prophet speaks of only one subject, the destruction of the hated enemy of Israel, Assyria, and its capital city, Nineveh. You might remember that it was to this city that the Prophet Jonah was sent by God to preach repentance. In the Book of the Jonah, after less than one day of preaching, the citizens of Nineveh repented. However, Nahum lives at a different time and under different circumstances. In this book, Nineveh is once again considered the enemy of Israel. So this short book of the Hebrew Scriptures is concerned solely with the destruction of Assyria, the mortal enemy of Israel. Nahum does not write vengefully. Instead, he simply delivers the message that Nineveh has brought about its own destruction by its complete disregard for God’s chosen people.
In the history of humankind, there have been many such empires, many such despots, whose sole preoccupation is the enslavement of others to serve their egotistic lifestyle. Like Assyria, these empires and their despotic rulers eventually are overcome and destroyed.
By way of contrast, God came into the world as a child born of a woman who eventually suffered death at the hands of the Roman Empire at the behest of the leaders of Israel. God has conquered the world by taking on human weakness and by suffering and dying for others. Jesus taught us that this life is not about us. The cross stands as a sign that we are all called to serve the needs of others and, in so doing, saving our own lives. Each time we celebrate the Eucharist, we proclaim once again that the first shall be last and the last shall be first.