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 God did not do it.
Pray for Today: Psalm 62:5-8
Wait calmly for God alone, my soul; for my hope is from the Lord.
Only God is my safe place; my strong place from which I cannot be shaken.
My welfare and worth depend on God, my strong rock; my refuge is in God.
Ever trust in God, O people, pour out your joys and your sorrows before the Lord;
God is our refuge!
Psalm paraphrase from The Billabong, a lectionary worship resource by Jeff Shrowder, Uniting Church in Australia
Epiphany. Jonah. Lovely Enemies.
We're still in the season of Epiphany that emphasizes God's love for all people and all creation, Jesus as savior and redeemer for all the world, not only the Jewish people. Because of this, during Epiphany we especially consider evangelism and other less formal ways of reaching out. We've celebrated the Baptism of Jesus that's a call – and identity – narrative, just as baptism identifies us as God's people and calls us to love, mercy, justice, and service. Last week we read in John's gospel about Jesus calling his first disciples to follow him.
The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) brings us a passage from Jonah only once in the 3-year cycle, and it's more of a small sliver than a substantial chunk. You might want to blitz read through Jonah; there are many summaries of Jonah online that summarize the historical situation.
The day and the season of Epiphany focus on God's inclusive embrace. Today's reading relates well to the divided USA with its different viewpoints, differing ideologies, an extremely wide political spectrum, and religious diversity. Please notice, the book of Jonah doesn't say anything about a whale—it talks about a Great Fish. (Not that every translation of every text always is word-for-word; besides, whales are mammals, not fish.)
From this section in the Book of the Twelve/Minor Prophets, we read about God calling Jonah to reach out to people he considered enemies; this Old Testament book also is about God's love for those Assyrian enemies. (For details, read the entire book and maybe some related history). As individuals, as a church, as residents of the USA or another relatively free country, do we have enemies? Are there people we try to avoid or (minimally) would prefer not to associate with? There well may be some on the perimeters who wouldn't be good to approach, but that's a separate concern. Only Jesus truly could be a friend to everyone.
Who are our enemies? Do we want to tell them about and show them them God's infinite, expansive love and mercy? Maybe telling them in words isn't too difficult, but how about showing them by inviting them into our circles and spaces? Earlier this week I read an excellent explanation of the buzz phrase "diversity, equity, and inclusion":
• Diversity means everyone is invited to the party.
• Equity means everyone gets to contribute to the playlist.
• Inclusion means everyone has the opportunity to dance (to dance or not to dance is their choice).
Attributed to Robert Sellers
We and they – us and them – ours and theirs aren't wrong at all! Each individual and each group has unique gifts and characteristics. Relationships would be impossible if everyone was an undifferentiated blob. The apostle Paul talks a whole lot about diversity, equity, and inclusion. He celebrates baptism incorporating everyone (the far-off and the near!) into Christ so everyone then can take part according to their abilities and desires.
• Diversity means everyone is invited to the party.
We might be okay inviting everyone, we might be fine if all of them show up to the (party, concert, committee meeting, worship, convention) event, because we want our organization to appear diverse to outsiders and to ourselves, and/or because we deep-down believe everyone needs to be invited.
• Equity means everyone gets to contribute to the playlist. Actually allowing and even encouraging everyone to contribute might be something else. Excuses? They're not our style, they don't understand our mission, we're mostly about something they're not very good at. Most individuals take time to observe and discern what's safe or not when they're new, so a newbie might or might not say yes the first time someone asks them to participate.
• Inclusion means everyone has the opportunity to dance.
"Everyone has the opportunity to dance?" Think about it, especially as we slowly prepare to return to church campus and reach out again to our neighbors.
Types of Christ
We sometimes refer to types or icons of Jesus Christ in scripture. For example, Moses as liberator and law-giver is a type of Christ. As ruler or sovereign, David is a type of Christ. Adam, the first human, is an icon of Jesus Christ, the new human. Jonah spent 3 days and 3 nights in the belly of the great fish; Jesus spent 3 days and 3 nights buried in the earth. In addition to God's inclusive love, in Jonah we find death and resurrection. Sounds like Jesus!
We've studied many (many) passages from the apostle Paul. For Paul, the good news of the gospel is death and resurrection! For us as well, the gospeled good news is our dying in every way possible, God raising us to every possible kind of new life.
The Sign of Jonah: Lovely Enemies
In Matthew's and Luke's gospels, Jesus mentions the sign of Jonah; death and resurrection has become the most traditional interpretation of this phrase. Last week we discussed (I wrote about) signs and symbols that aren't actual objects or events, but point beyond themselves to something else: a sign on a street or freeway or shop; words on a printed page or on a screen; a product label; a rash, fever, or pain a clinician can interpret to make a diagnosis.
38Some of the scribes and Pharisees said to jesus, "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."
1The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test Jesus they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. 2He answered them …"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."
29Jesus 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."
In these readings, the Sign of Jonah is death and resurrection, burial and new life. Isn't the sign of Jonah also God's love for everyone, followed by the love of God's people for all, when even supposed enemies become lovely?!