Good morning everyone! Hope your Ash Wednesday was a good one. Did you get smudged?
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.” So 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. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.” When 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.
Alrighty, you all ready to do a little bible work this morning? The picture above (hopefully it came through) is of Nineveh ruins today. This would have been the gate into “the great story” and a major key player in the short book of Jonah. You may have only heard of the book of Jonah in the context of your childhood and being swallowed by a while. Jonah has been used for years and years as a children’s fable about disobedience from God but it is oh so much more. You might be able to pick that up from the story this morning in our reading. Jonah is a short book, just three chapters. In it, God approaches Jonah and tells him to go to Nineveh to relay a message. God will destroy the city. Seems pretty simple, right? Jonah freaks out. Why does he freak out? Well, during this time Assyria has been destroying and taking over the Northern part of Israel. Yeah, this is Jonah’s homeland. So God is asking Jonah to walk into the capital of Assyria (Nineveh) and preach. God is asking Jonah to go directly to the heartland of the enemy it seems to tell them….hey, God is angry. Knock it off or else you will go down. Seem a little more reasonable that Jonah would run?
Jonah runs. I. do. not. blame. him. Do you? You may know the middle of the story. Jonah hops on a boat. He gets thrown out of the boat (by his own request to save all) and into the belly of a big fish (how did we get whale out of that? not sure). He calls out to God. God has the fish spit him out and God tells him again to go. This time he does. He pulls up all of his strength and fear and goes on into Nineveh. He goes into enemy territory to a people who had been known to be brutal. He walks into ASSYRIA and calls out for repentance. And if they don’t turn around then they have what’s coming to them (which people in the ancient world would have been routing for by the way because they were sooooo awful). They take 40 days to really spend time in repentance (turning a direction) and then….AND THEN…and then….God changes God’s mind!!!!!
Can you believe it???? God changes God’s mind and gives mercy to the most awful of them all in….Nineveh. I hope you are gasping right now. Loudly. God gives mercy to the group of people that Jonah took chapters to gain enough confidence to walk through the gate to talk to. God gives mercy and forgiveness to the people known for the worst. God gives mercy to the ones to truly take 40 days to figure out how to be forgiven. God gives mercy to the most unlikely characters. God gives mercy to break cycles of violence instead of destroying the ones who destroyed. Do you see what I am seeing here?
Whoa. And yes, 40 days makes a major play here. It takes time to sit in our ashes and look towards where God is calling us. And still, God will give mercy. God uses Jonah (another unlikely character) who runs from the call and then comes back to it to tell other humans and unlikely characters to shape up in those forty days.
Ok, so where are you in all of this? First of all, take a moment to read Jonah. It is a great book of the Bible. It is just four chapters long and packed full of goodness. If you don’t have that time right now, let’s think about where you might land. Are you Jonah this morning? Are you running from what you might need to say to someone? Are you facing your own call from God and trying to figure that all out? Are you just tired of being swallowed whole and running and ready to land?
Are you needing the call from God to turn your ways? What does that look like? Are you in the middle of Nineveh? Do you need these forty days to sit in ashes and fast? Are you finding out where God is calling you next out of that?
Are you ready to give mercy to the unlikely? I don’t want to compare you to God here but there is value in forgiving. Where is mercy needed and the cycle stopped? Perhaps you see it somewhere and want to pray to God about how we can navigate those waters?
How will this Lenten journey help you through those questions, reader? You, the unlikely character, have some work to do this morning. 🙂 Enjoy.