So what can we learn from Jonah besides him spending three days in the belly of a big fish? Jonah was the son of a prophet who came from a small border town in Israel whose name in Hebrew means “dove” or “peace.” We know from this account that this was not how he felt. The reluctance of Jonah is clearly a message for all of us. How many times do we try to hide out from God even when we know God is calling us, only to discover there is nowhere we can hide from God, even when we are called to go somewhere we detest? God was sending Jonah to a pagan nation who was one of Israel’s worst enemies. Not only did Jonah flee from God he told him “no”! Perhaps the saying ‘you can run but you can’t hide” is truer than we think. How many times do we want to curl up somewhere and not be noticed? However, God noticed when Jonah fled on a ship going to Tarshish, the opposite direction of where God was sending him. God sends such a powerful storm endangering the ship Jonah is on to get his attention. All the while the sailors are trying to save the ship, Jonah is sound asleep below deck. The storms we experience in our own lives are like this. While things are happening all around us we stay huddled away from the chaos we are being called to enter. Like the sailors afraid of going down with the ship, and losing their life, they turn to the one who could be the actual cause of the storm. Many of the decisions we make because of our disobedience or fear can hurt those around us, especially if we are running from God or the responsibilities we have as Christians. When Jonah was thrown overboard he thought he was going to die, yet God was not going to let this happen. There is no escaping from God as Jonah found out. God’s mercy is once again being shown to Jonah. After Jonah is spewed out from the belly of the whale God repeats his call to Jonah, to go to Nineveh and call on the inhabitants to repent or he would send his judgment upon them. Now Nineveh was a major city in Assyria, a major economic city with a large military presence. This city was filled with many young families, children, and much livestock, besides other animals. It was estimated that Nineveh had over one million people who lived there at that time. Jonah was required to spend three days preaching throughout the whole city warning that God would destroy the city in 40 days if they did not repent. Totally stunning Jonah the Ninevites turned from their pagan ways, fasted and put on sackcloth and repented. Surprisingly, from the highest level of government to the least man, beast, and flock did not eat or drink until all gave up their violent and evil ways. As we know, God relented and was filled with compassion for both the people and the animals. Yet, Jonah still found it very difficult to accept God’s mercy and compassion for Nineveh, and all its inhabitants, all he wanted to do was roll over and die. Jonah could not let go of his anger and bitterness towards the people of this city. How many times do we hold on to our prejudices and emotions, not caring about the good which can come out of a situation, but wanting still to get revenge? The plant God sent to shade Jonah and then caused the plant to die, I believe, illustrates our own self-centeredness. Jonah had more pity on the plant dying than having pity on the inhabitants of Nineveh.
Are we not suppose to care and pray for our enemies? Are we not to show God’s care, compassion, love, and mercy, for others even in the midst of their own anger and ours? Jonah is a story about us, our disobedience, sinfulness, self-centeredness, lack of action, lack of love and caring for others, mistreatment of any kind, and irresponsibility. Perhaps most of all is our carefree or irreverent attitude towards God. While we are here on Sundays worshipping how do we behave the rest of the week toward others? I’ve come to understand that Jonah is really a self-study of us. As we approach the season of Lent on Valentine’s Day this year let us use this as an opportunity to work on the Jonah in each of us, to remember that every single life is precious in God’s sight even those who do not know God. Let us show the love of God to all regardless of who they are and what/how they believe. Amen.
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