Prepare yourself to discern what is and what is not of God today. Still yourself so you can hear how God is calling you.
Jonah 3:1-10 (NRSV)
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.
Jonah went to a great deal of trouble to avoid Nineveh. When we pick up the story of Jonah in chapter three, he had just been delivered from the mouth of the great fish. God had sent Jonah to a place where he simply did not want to go: the Assyrian city of Nineveh, which was notorious for its depravity. Since Jonah didn’t approve of God’s message to this foreign city, he ran.
I think many of us in the church have experienced God’s call to go somewhere or do something that we just don’t want to do. I live in Memphis, Tennessee, which has a depressingly large homeless population. Perhaps it’s just my discomfort in new and unique social situations, but I experience a great deal of anxiety when I work with and serve people who are homeless. I feel like there’s not much I have to offer this particular community of God’s children, so I make excuses as to why I am unable to serve with Room in the Inn, a ministry that provides shelter for homeless guests in the winter months, or Burrito Ministry, which prepares and distributes burritos to hungry people in downtown Memphis. When such opportunities present themselves, I run—to my schoolwork, to church responsibilities, to my hobbies and other activities. Like Jonah, I do all that I can to stay away from the very people God calls me to serve.
When I look at this third chapter of Jonah, I notice the urgency with which the Ninevites repented and turned to God. I wonder if anyone had ever told them about God’s mercy and justice. Once the Ninevites heard of the glory of God from Jonah, a most unlikely servant, they immediately were compelled to follow this God, and they were saved.
From what people are we withholding the Word of God? Which “undesirable” people have never heard of God’s goodness because of our reluctance to go to them? As we go about our days and weeks, let us be mindful of a world that, like Nineveh, is largely devoid of hope, but one in which we have the power to introduce God’s hope to the communities that need it most.
Merciful God, thank you for your abundant grace. Help us to discern your call in our lives, even if you are calling us to go where we do not want to go. Convict us by the power of your Holy Spirit to go to those whom we find most undesirable and proclaim the good news that you are willing to forgive. Guide us by your light, and lead us into your way of peace. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Go with God.