Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Epiphany 3B

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

1The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2"Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you." 3So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days' walk across. 4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's walk. And he cried out, "Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!"

5And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

10When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.


The church's relatively new year of grace still is in the season of Epiphany that emphasizes God as God for all people and all creation, Jesus as savior and redeemer for all the world, not only the Jewish people. Scripture readings for epiphany emphasize a far-reaching universal salvation; they include several call narratives—God calling all of us to be light to the world, especially the world that immediately surrounds us. Last week we celebrated the Baptism of Jesus that's a call – and identity – narrative, just as our baptisms are.

The Revised Common Lectionary that chooses our scripture readings brings us a chunk of Jonah only once in the 3-year cycle, and it's more of a very small sliver than a substantial chunk. Let's do a quick summary of the entire book of Jonah today. Jonah is about God calling Jonah to a particular task more than once; Jonah is about God's love for the brutal Assyrian empire that's an enemy of Jonah's people. Who are our brutal enemies? Do we want to tell them about and show them them God's infinite, expansive love and mercy?

Maybe you know about what we sometimes refer to as types or icons of Jesus Christ in scripture? For example, Moses as liberator and law-giver is a type of Christ. David is a type of Christ as ruler or sovereign. Adam, the first human is an icon of Jesus Christ, the new human. Jonah spent 3 days and 3 night in the belly of the great fish, just as Jesus spent 3 days and 3 nights buried in the ground. Beside God call to Jonah and God's love for all people and all creation, something else we find in Jonah? Death and resurrection! BTW, Middle-eastern culture considers a day or a part of a day an entire day. Also, semitic languages have no word for "some, a few, or several," so they use the expedient "three."

Over the past two plus years, we've studied many (many) passages from the apostle Paul. For Paul, the gospel is death and resurrection! For us as well, the good news of the gospel is our dying in every way possible, God raising us to every possible kind of new life. I asked Steve W to read short passages from Matthew and Luke along with the commentary in his study bible.

Matthew 12

38Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, "Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you." 39But he answered them, "An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. 41The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!"

Matthew 16

1The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test Jesus they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. 2He answered them, "When it is evening, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.' 3And in the morning, 'It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.' You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah." Then he left them and went away.

Luke 11

29When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, "This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation."

Long ago I learned a Vacation Bible School song about Jonah by the late (as in deceased) pastor Ewald Bash.


1. We sail a ship with a man named Jonah... early in the morning.
2. Lord, our God, have mercy on us, ... early in the morning.
3. Fall on your knees, for the sea is raging ... early in the morning.
4. Who is the guilty one among us?...
5 Cast the lot, and the number's Jonah ...
6. Row, men, row to save this Jonah! ...
7. O Lord God, we've got to drown him ...
8. Done, and the sea has ceased its raging ...
9. Lord, send a fish and a resurrection ...
10. What shall we do when the world is drowning?...
13. Lord, send a fish and a resurrection ...
12. Lord, our God, have mercy on us, ...

I mentioned how in the early days of Christianity if someone wondered if their conversation partner was Christian or not, they'd casually draw half of a simple fish in the sand with their foot; if the other person was Christian they'd complete the fish figure from their side—if not, nothing subversive had been revealed. They did this because the Greek word for fish spells out the first letter of each word in the phrase, "Jesus Christ God's Son Savior." (Ichthyology is the study of fish.) It's a bit crazy that when I finally looked at our Sunday bulletin, beyond ascertaining it included the text I planned to discuss, it mentioned this Fish Fact! Cool!

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