Going Deeper 01.20.2021

The first reading for Epiphany 3... Jonah 3:1-10

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.

This is a strange climax to this strange story.  And yet this is a very important story for all times, and right now for our time.

There seems to be a rather important paradox in the Old Testament.  It is clear that Israel had come to understand themselves as God's favorites.  After all, God had chosen their patriarch Abraham and promised to bless him with descendants and a land in which to live. But at the same time God declared that through Abraham's descendants all the nations would be blessed.  God later delivered them from abusive slavery in Egypt-- destroying those enemies, and then granted them destructive victories in their conquest of the "promised land."

So... does this mean that Israel truly was God's favorite, and therefore Israel's enemies were God's enemies?  So it would seem as most of the Old Testament history unfolds.  That is, until you get to the story of Jonah, which seems to make it clear that God desires to have mercy on Israel's bitter and brutal enemies-- the notorious Assyrians.  Pretty much every Israelite would be on Jonah's side.  Surely God has to be kidding!!  The Assyrians deserved to be destroyed.

How does one sort out this paradox?  Like every other question, we look to Jesus for clarification.  And Jesus makes it perfectly clear: God loves all of His children and desires for them to be cared for and led to Him.  We are to love and pray for our enemies, turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, giving the extra coat.  Blessed are the peacemakers.

This doesn't answer every question.  There is a time and place for taking up arms to protect oneself and the vulnerable from those who would destroy them.  But that is at best a necessary evil.  God's ultimate desire is for reconciliation and peace... as seen in the story of Jonah.  Our first priority must always be peace.

With You in His Service,

Mark Gabbert, Pastor

Zion Lutheran Church, Wellington

"Gratefully Growing Servants"