16 September 2021Jonah 3:1-5
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, 'Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.' (vs 1-2)
When Jonah is cast up on the shore, or the dry land as the text reads, he is not given time to rest and recuperate or to make any decision for himself about the way forward. The answer to his prayer comes it would seem instantly when the Lord comes to him for the second time, despite his refusal to obey on the first occasion. He is told to spring to life, get moving and go to Nineveh, that place to which he had been told to go initially.
We are not told how he deals with the practicalities of soaking wet clothes, or the odour of the fish, which would no doubt be still be on him, or even how he gets food to eat. He is just told to go, and he sets off on the three day walk which will take him to a city, not a place he is comfortable to be, but go he must to carry out the demands that have been made of him. We are told that it is an exceedingly large city, and yet when Jonah arrives and calls out the message he has been given, that the place is to be destroyed, it seems that not just a few folk hear what he says but all the people hear and believe him. It would seem that they realise the words are not his own but have come from God. They fast and became penitent of the sins that have brought this possible destruction upon them.
If I try to get an image of Jonah’s appearance in the city, I perhaps think of some of those men we have seen in the past, but not so much these days, who stand on the corner of the street with posters with the words 'Prepare to meet your God' or something similar. I suspect most people walk past about their business or glance at them and pass by without taking heed of the message. How different from what's described in this account. Were the people of Nineveh more naïve than the people of modern times or is the writer spelling out a different message in this short document we call Jonah? The academic Gerhard von Rad writing about the book speaks of Jonah as being ridiculously stubborn, a man who begrudges God’s mercy to the heathens. Jonah first decides to ignore the message he was given, and having gone through the trauma of the storm and being cast into the sea then decides to obey the command. For all his disobedience, Jonah is nevertheless a figure whom God intended to use, and he was the person who in the first case made the sailors on the ship have their attention drawn to Yahweh and then as we read in these verses today, the whole people of Nineveh also repent in ashes as they heed the words he brings.
- Are we sometimes guilty of not seeing God at work in those who are not of our faith community and forgetful of the fact that all people are made in God's image?
- Should we sometimes make more effort to be out there amongst the crowd to see what God is doing, rather than shutting ourselves away in safety within our churches?
- Do we ourselves sometimes not notice the times when God puts us just where we need to be at the right time for action?
Give us an awareness Lord of your presence in the wider world. Help us to hear your words spoken by our neighbours and the stranger in the street, and help us to heed those words and act upon them. Amen.