Today’s first reading is a satire, a commentary on a society that uses a witty irony to make its point. But not a Juvenalian satire, that ridiculing, sarcastic, fun-for-fun’s sake attack; instead a gentler, cleverly humorous, more adult Horatian satire, whose purpose is to teach. Not “South Park” but “The Simpsons’”.

The Book of Jonah meant to turn the Israelites back towards a reverential fear of the Lord while avoiding in them any feelings of moral superiority.  The short mock-history presents a blundering prophet who approves of neither the Lord’s methods nor his mercy to one of the Jews’ historical enemies, the Assyrians. If even they could turn from their evil ways, what is expected from God’s chosen people?

When reviewing that iconic image from two weeks ago of Pope Francis pulling up in a small gray Fiat to the gates of the White House, in front of more than ten thousand invited guests, Marine Corps Band playing in the backgroundshouldn’t we also ask ourselves what lesson he was teaching us about what is to be at the center of our own lives?

—Gregory Ostdiek, S.J. is a Jesuit scholastic teaching science to inquiring minds at Loyola Academy, Wilmette, IL.