Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Set Out

The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: "Set out for the great city of Nineveh, and announce to it the message that I will tell you." So Jonah made ready and went to Nineveh, according to the LORD's bidding. Jonah 3:1-2

While still more people gathered in the crowd, Jesus said to them, "This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah. Luke 11:29-30

When I became faint, I remembered the LORD; My prayer came to you in your holy temple.  Those who worship worthless idols abandon their hope for mercy.  But I, with thankful voice, will sacrifice to you; What I have vowed I will pay: deliverance is from the LORD.i  (Jonah 2:8-11)

Finally, Jonah prayed.  In the beginning of this story, the Lord spoke to Jonah and Jonah did everything but listen.  He ran away.  He fell asleep.  He sacrificed himself to death rather than listen and act.  Finally, Jonah prayed.

Can we expect anything less or more than Jonah?  Not likely. If we seek a sign, we need not look any further than Jonah.  What does that mean?

First, the message of the Lord will be persistent.  If we do not pay attention the first time, the Lord does not forget about us like some Brooklyn Dodger fan.  The Lord is persistent.  The command in Jonah 3 is EXACTLY the same as the command in Jonah 1.  If we don’t act on the Word the first time, He will come back to us a second and third and fourth time until we act -- even if that “action” is inaction.

Because of the Lord’s persistence and insistence, we also might find ourselves in the belly of the whale until we decide to change our ways and follow the instructions which we are given. Jonah would rather die by being tossed overboard then bring the message of the Lord’s forgiveness to the Assyrians and the people of Nineveh. Jonah could not get off that easily -- he did not die but ended up in the belly of a large fish (whale?).

Contrast Jonah being thrown into the raging sea to St. Peter’s encounter with the raging sea when the Lord rescues him and then in John 23 when he jumps out of the boat voluntarily totally trusting in the Lord and willing to do anything to follow Jesus.

Finding himself in limbo between life and death, Jonah is now ready to cooperate with God’s plan for him: "But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord." After some 72 hours in the belly of the fish he vowed that he would now do whatever God wanted him to do. That's what God was waiting for. The next verse tells us that "the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land." When the Lord said a second time to go to Nineveh, Jonah went and preached God's message to the great city.

Why does this matter?

What happened to Jonah was not an isolated incident but it has a meaning in the wider context of our Fourth Day journey.   When we finally do act, the only way to follow through on what is required of us is to get out of our comfort zone.  Jonah “set out.”  He could not fulfill the call to love by staying at home and keeping the message to himself.

Jonah was called to witness in the real world, not just to members of his own church and his own home town.  We, too, are called to “leaven” our environments just as Jonah was called to change the people of Nineveh.

Where are you called to go when you get up off your couch or when you get thrown into the sea?   

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