- Jonah 3:1-5, 10
- Psalm 62:6-12
- 1 Corinthians 7:29-31
- Mark 1:14-20
Words that connect today’s readings do not seem connected at all: fish, risk and urgency. We hear the familiar story of Jesus calling his disciples to make them “fishers of men.” Paul has faced a reversal in his life, sharing with the church in Corinth that “The appointed time has grown short” (1 Corinthians 7:29). The urgency is to follow the bidding of the Lord, because “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near . . .” (Mark 1:15).
Jonah has been given a message of great urgency. Ninevah had become the worlds’ greatest obstacle to the establishment of justice. Conquest and greed from the Assyrian Empire had made it a great city through aggression, cruelty and exploitation. Jonah was not quite willing to take up his task when called upon by God, but eventually he was compelled to deliver God’s message.
And despite what he believed, the citizens of Ninevah repented the crimes that there nation had committed. If we were to include reading the verses 6-9 we would hear that the ruler led the way in showing sorrow for national sins, with sackcloth and ashes and a total fast (which is where our Ash Wednesday practice comes from).
God took note of the people’s repentance. So there was no earthquake or thunderbolt. But Jonah could not accept the success of his words on God’s behalf. Jonah was filled with doom, despite their lamentations of their sins.
Power belongs to God, and the Lord exercises that power always with steadfast love. Trusting in human leaders can lead to broken promises. God is the strong rock and refuge.
The Prayer of Jonah (or: the futility of hatred)
Out of my distress I called you, O Lord, but you did not answer me.
I refused to preach repentance to the Ninevites, but you forced me. When I sailed away in the opposite direction, you hurled a violent wind at me. Your monster swallowed me and returned me to your path.
Repentance I would not preach in Nineveh, rather I cursed them, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed.”
But you did not listen to me. You listened to the people of Nineveh as they sat in ashes covered with sackcloth.
I am angry because you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger, rich in clemency, loathe to punish.
If you will not destroy Nineveh then give me death. It is better for me to die than to see my enemy live.
Thomas Reese (“Peace Prayers from Around the World” HarperCollins, 1992)
- Read the story of Jonah. Why was this story included in the Bible?
- What are your Ninevahs?
- Who are the prophets today? What would they tell us?