Forty Days: A lesson about Jonah and repentance

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The Ninevites Heeded Jonah’s Warning and Turned Back to God


The Ninevites were living in opposition to God’s plan for them. But God, in his mercy, gave them a final chance to change their ways — and God chose Jonah to be his messenger to them.

Recall the story. God asked Jonah to preach to the Ninevites, and Jonah gave God a resounding “No,” for the Ninevites were enemies of Israel. Jonah hid from the Lord on a ship sailing away from Ninevah. But God found him, sent a storm, and then a fish swallowed the wayward prophet. After three days, the fish spit onto the shore a contrite Jonah — refocused on his mission.

We, too, are called to spread God’s message of repentance and forgiveness. Everyone deserves a chance to turn away from their sins and embrace God’s mercy.

From the Word

“Jonah began his journey through the city, and when he had gone only a single day’s walk announcing, ‘Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown,’ the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth. … When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out.” (Jonah 3:4–5, 10).

Class Discussion

■ What did God ask Jonah to do?

■ Did Jonah obey God right away?

■ Do we ever “hide” from God? Why?

■ What did the Ninevites do when Jonah warned them to change?

■ Did God destroy Ninevah?

■ In what sacrament can we seek forgiveness from God?

■ What does God do when we ask him for forgiveness?


1. Hide-and-Seek. Play a classic game of hide-and-seek. Then play a version where you tell the student who is “It” where everyone is. God always knows where we’re hiding!

2. Turning Toward or Away. Line up students in front of you and read them a series of statements. If the statement involves obeying God, students take three giant steps toward you. If it involves turning away from God, students take three giant steps back. Make the point that you never move. Whether we obey him or not, God is steadfast, awaiting our plea for reconciliation.

3. God Searches for Us. Create a word search puzzle with words from the story: Jonah, fish, hide, repent, forgiveness, Nineveh, hide, ship, storm, and God (Design your own word search here:

New Testament Connection

In Matthew’s Gospel, Peter asks Jesus, “‘Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times’” (Matthew 18:21– 22). God’s call is clear: We are to forgive each other as our heavenly Father forgives us.

God didn’t give up on Jonah. God didn’t give up on the Ninevites. And he doesn’t give up on us. His forgiveness is ever available for those who ask with a contrite heart. It is a message for Lent and for always.

LYNN WEHNER is a Catholic writer, editor, speaker, and catechist who lives with her husband and their children in Connecticut.


This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, February 2018.

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