five words – a reflection on Jonah 3:1-5, 10

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Minor Prophets / Old Testament / Year B

A tree in winter, in Valley Forge National Park. Photo by Rick Morley

The following is a reflection on Jonah 3: 1-5, 10, the Hebrew Bible lesson appointed for January 22, 2011, the third Sunday after the Epiphany – according to the Revised Common Lectionary. Also on this site is a reflection on the Gospel Lesson for the same day, and a version of the Prayers of the People for all Epiphany.

Who would you NOT want to see succeed? Or, maybe more to the point, who would you like to see fail? See defeated?

Who would you like to see God smite?

Of late, as political campaigns ramp up, and as a general election looms on the horizon, the airwaves are filled with pundits and politicians waxing eloquent on who they’d like to see fail.

He’s dangerous. He wants America to fail. He embodies failed leadership. He doesn’t get it.

Such statements are lobbed from both ends of the political spectrum at the other.

But, there are, of course, more insidious things going on than even politics. Which dictator would be best ousted, or taken out by special forces? Which group of people are becoming more and more dangerous to society at large, and must be relegated to the back of the bus? Which company needs to be outmaneuvered so that my company can succeed, and I can keep my job?

This is the moral soup in which Jonah swims. (Pardon the pun…)

God came to him and asked him to go to Nineveh, and tell them to repent. Jonah got on a boat going in the exact opposite direction. Then when a storm threatened to topple the boat Jonah was on, Jonah told the captain to throw him overboard and kill him, rather than just tell the captain to turn the ship around and head for Nineveh. And, when Jonah arrives in Nineveh (smelling like a bucket of fish-puke), he walks on one-third of the way into the city…and says (in Hebrew) five words.

Five words.

Is that all he thought that Nineveh needed to turn and repent?

Or, did he think that that was an acceptable minimum to get God off his back?

Of course, I think it was the second option. Though, apparently, the first option was correct too.

With those five little words Jonah becomes the most successful prophet in the entire canon of the Hebrew Bible. He turns an entire city to the ways of God.

And he hated it. The rest of the story shows Jonah weeping and wailing, and railing against God, asking him to just end his life.

One thing is certain: Jonah didn’t care for the Ninevites. In fact, in reality, what he wanted was to see them fail. And be smited.

But, two more things are also certain. One, God didn’t share Jonah’s opinion. God doesn’t play favorites. And, no matter who the party or person is, God is always willing to extend grace and mercy.

And, two: We don’t have to be angels and saints for God to use us. Jonah was bigoted and hateful—for some unknown reason—and despite even that God was able to use him.

The book of Jonah brings me much comfort. Because I can be every bit a jerk as he was. And, even with that against me, God can still use me to do great things. God’s things.

The Author

follower of Jesus, father of two, husband of one, Episcopal priest, with one book down, one blog up...surrounded by empty jars of nutella


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