1st Scripture Reading: Jonah 3: 1-5, 10 & Psalm 62 (responsive)
The prophet Jonah wasn’t always happy with the things God wanted him to do. He was pretty sure the people of Ninevah, for example, probably didn’t want to hear what God wanted him to tell them – pretty sure they might be angry – and just as sure that they might take it out on him!
So he had fled the presence of God (???) and his call to action. We all know the story of Jonah and the whale…. So after much desperate prayer, God rescued Jonah (in the story) and called him again to the identical mission – to go to Ninevah, a city of more than 120,000 people, and proclaim the message God had given him.
Jonah seems an unlikely instrument to speak God’s truth to the people. He seems emotional, self-centered, and melodramatic.
What can we learn from this story, or parable, or allegory as some scholars have named it?
Well, first of all, the people of Ninevah did not react the way Jonah thought they would. Hearing the proclamation, “Forty days more, and Ninevah shall be overthrown.” – hearing this, the people turned as one to wearing sackcloth and repenting their evil ways. So Jonah could not predict the actual reaction of others to the word of God – he could not know the outcome of his mission ahead of time. God’s ways were not his ways…
We may wrestle with God about something we feel called to do – listing the pros and cons, fearing the consequences, unsure of the outcome. Interestingly, we find out later, that Jonah was angry with God for an astoundingly positive outcome! The people responded in ways Jonah did not predict, and God did not punish them, and somehow Jonah felt betrayed! God had not done what was threatened, and Jonah had risked much, did not see the heavy hand of God, and was royally pissed off!
In some ways this is a funny story. Jonah could be any of us, couldn’t he. He couldn’t really see the big picture, that because of his action the people of Ninevah had been saved from the consequences of their evil ways. His focus was very much on his own self-interest, and although he knew in his head that God was merciful and forgiving, he kind of wanted to see the punishment of God fall on Ninevah, almost as reward for his own inconvenience.
If we read the whole story, we realize that God is teaching Jonah. That everything God does to and for Jonah is about helping him to grow spiritually. Jonah is a spiritual infant. Paying attention to the guidance of Spirit, or Jesus, or God, or a Higher Power is how he will learn, and we will learn what we need to know to become better,wiser human beings.
The psalm reminds us that God is our Rock and our salvation – an ever-present refuge in times of trouble. Here in this psalm we meet the God of Love and fairness who Jonah seems to have forgotten as he tries to live out his calling to do God’s will in the world.
Hymn # 271 VU “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy”
2nd Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 & Mark 1:14-20
The reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is both distressing, and prophetic. The selected passage has less of the disturbing material in it – for me at least. Paul’s views about marriage and conjugal living are extremely negative towards women and judgemental, in my view, of both men and women who want to experience normal, healthy, sexual relationships.
But I get to the end of this passage and I read, “For the present form of this world is passing away.” – and then I wonder, what did Paul know, or thought he knew, about the future of this planet? What was Spirit whispering to Paul about a very different reality to come –was it a dimension where there would be no sexual interaction, no commerce, no need to mourn or to rejoice?
For sure this world is always changing. Some believe it is evolving as all living things are evolving. The world of today would be astonishing to the first followers of Jesus. But we still marry, and buy and sell things, we still mourn our losses and celebrate our blessings. Hopefully we do these things more thoughtfully than we did in the past. Hopefully we look more to the good of others and to the sustainability of the planet than we did in the past. Hopefully we have more control of our emotions than Jonah did, or King David or Queen Jezebel. And hopefully we can learn from our mistakes, apologize for our misdeeds, and grow in wisdom and understanding.
We are all called, as Jesus called his first disciples, to trust that he knows where he is leading us, and that he knows what we need to know. We are called to be open to learning new ways of being in the world, new ways of living together, and new ways of living with respect in Creation. That means we must be willing to admit when we were wrong or ignorant, we must be willing to say “sorry” and make amends for our hurts to others, and we must be willing to forgive any other child of God for their hurts to us.
New learnings transform us. We are different people as we grow in wisdom and understanding. We become able to see that our neighbours are not different from us and to love them as we love ourselves. We become more able to see that “big picture” that was so invisible to Jonah. We are coming to realize the truth that we are one people, under God, living on one small planet with finite resources. It has taken us a long time.
But this is Kairos time – God’s time. I do not believe it is too late. Like Paul I do believe the old world is passing away, and what will be is emerging as we speak. It is up to us what that will look like.
Someone asked me at lunch on Friday if I was travelling with God as my co-pilot today. Yes, I said, today and every day. If we are listening to the call of Spirit, the still small voice of God, or hanging out with Jesus, then we will become the agents of God’s will on earth and who knows what wonderful new world will rise up to greet us!
Hymn # 567 VU “Will You Come and Follow Me”