This Sunday, we’ll be hearing from one of my friends and running partners talking about World Vision and raising money for clean water in Africa. Sandra will be asking for volunteers to run the Twin Cities Marathon (the same one I ran last year) and raise money at the same time. It will be a moving presentation and I hope you’ll look forward to it!
I’ll also be talking to the kids – and the adults – about Jonah. Lent, as I said yesterday, is a time of training and spiritual thoughtfulness. This year, I’ll be working through the entire book of Jonah. You probably know the story by heart – the famous prophet being called by God to go out of Israel and preach to the Assyrians in Nineveh. As you know, he runs away instead of following God, and he ends up being swallowed by a “great fish” and then praying for forgiveness – and being spat out on the shore and heading to Nineveh. He preaches and the whole city repents. Remember? You’ve heard the story since you were a kid. Most of us never really get past the children’s version of the story…but this year we will!
Jesus refers to the “sign of Jonah,” and many people look to the story of Jonah as a “type” of Christ – that is, the story foreshadows Jesus and what He does much much later. That’s true, but I think it still falls short of the wonder that Jonah can add to the Lenten experience. You see, Jonah’s story mirrors our story as Christians.
Jonah gets called by God. “The Word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai…” Jonah is referenced in Second Kings as a prophet of the Lord. There is no mention of him getting into trouble with any kings – like so many of his brethren did throughout history. It appears Jonah was relatively popular; as far as we know he did what God asked of him and preached well – the reference in Kings is to Jonah proclaiming a renewal of the territory of Israel. Good stuff. And once again, God calls Jonah. The standard prophetic phrase “the Word of the Lord came to…” has vast implications for us as Christians, knowing the pre-incarnate Christ is and always has been the Word. Jonah is filled with Christ – and apparently His forgiveness.
The next verse is “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” Nineveh – the great city – was probably the largest and most dangerous city in the ancient near east. It was the capital – or one of the capitals – of the Assyrians, a people who were so frightening other cities tended to surrender rather than fight when they showed up at the gates. Assyrians had a habit of creating vast sculptures out of their enemies’ bones. They had iron – which was at the very least rare in those days – and used chariots. The Israelites were terrified of them, just like the rest of the world.
But in this verse, God says that He is in charge of even them. That His mercy extends even to the worst kind of people that Jonah could imagine. It says that God is going to give them a chance. He won’t just destroy the city – which is probably what Jonah secretly would like.
Isn’t that exactly what happens with us? God calls us. He calls us to repent like the Ninevites. He calls us to preach like Jonah. He calls us into relationship with the Trinity – He loves us. We are called to respond. He steps out – and we have the opportunity to say yes or no. The call is on our lives – to do what the Word wants us to. It involves doing things we may not like; it also suggests a mercy that we are not prepared to deal with. Both for ourselves – because in our heart of hearts we know we aren’t worthy of God’s love – and others; because we secretly aren’t so happy about other people being forgiven either. It doesn’t seem “fair,” whatever that means.
We know what Jonah does. The question is, what will we do when God calls? For most of us, we behave just like Jonah. We might not run physically, but we throw tantrums and refuse to do what He wants. Next time, how will we respond?