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Daily Encouragement - January 26

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 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 3:1-5, 10 NRSV

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.

Mark 1:14 NRSV

Old Jonah, he lived in a whale.

Old Jonah, he lived in a whale.

He made his home in

That fish’s ab-do-men...

Old Jonah, he lived in a whale.

Those lyrics are part of the song “It Ain’t Necessarily So” from the great American opera “Porgy and Bess” composed by George Gershwin. Sadly, that’s pretty much the extent of what most people know about Jonah - he spent 3 days in the belly of a whale. But there’s more to it than that.

The story of the prophet Jonah reads like a comedy gone wrong. The word of the Lord comes to the prophet Jonah, telling him that his next assignment is to go to Nineveh (the Sin City of the ancient Middle East) and preach a message of repentance. The Lord has determined that the wickedness of Nineveh is so great that if the city does not repent, it must be destroyed; but clearly, what God desires is for Nineveh to turn from its wicked ways, and live: God is going to give Nineveh a second chance. Jonah is less than pleased. The Ninevites aren’t only spectacularly sinful; they are foreigners, not a part of God’s chosen people. In Jonah’s opinion, they aren’t worthy of God’s efforts to save them. Jonah does not want the Ninevites to be forgiven; he wants them to be fried. So he jumps aboard a ship with an itinerary that will take him as far away from Nineveh as it’s possible to go...or so he thinks.

The voyage is scarcely underway when a storm comes up; Jonah winds up being thrown overboard and is swallowed by “a great fish” in whose belly he spends 3 days. God has given Jonah a Divine Time Out. The whale develops a bad case of indigestion, and spits Jonah out onto the shore...which just happens to be the beach closest to Nineveh. (You can run, but you cannot hide.) There on the beach, the word of the Lord comes to Jonah “a second time.” Who needs a second chance now? Get up, the Lord says, and go to Nineveh. So Jonah gets up, brushes off the sand, and strikes out for Nineveh, where he preaches the least uplifting sermon in recorded history: “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” Miraculously, the people of Nineveh take Jonah’s message seriously; they believe God, proclaim a fast, and repent in sackcloth and ashes. When Nineveh repents, God relents; no fire and brimstone for Nineveh. For Jonah, this is not a happy ending. He is fit to be tied, so ticked off at God for forgiving the Ninevites that he tells the Lord he is “angry enough to die.” God gave Jonah the second chance he needed as a prophet, but Jonah did not want the Ninevites to enjoy the same privilege. The mercy of God doesn’t always make everybody happy.

It’s been said that most of us, like Jonah, want justice for others and mercy for ourselves. But that’s not how God works. God works on the basis of grace, which is available to all. When Jesus begins his public ministry, he proclaims the good news of God using that very same R-word, repent: “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe the good news.” Apparently, God wants the followers of Jesus to do the same thing God wanted the Ninevites to do: repent. God calls all of us to repent, not only because we all need to, but because God wants all of us to experience the grace of forgiveness. Grace is the door to the Kingdom of God. If it’s open to any, it’s open to all...all those who repent and believe the good news of God’s grace.

Forgive Our Sins as We Forgive, UMH, #390,

stanzas 1 and 3

"Forgive our sins as we forgive,"

you taught us, Lord, to pray.

but you alone can grant us grace

to live the words we say.

In blazing light your cross reveals

the truth we dimly knew;

what trivial debts are owed to us,

how great our debt to you!

Pastor Susan Pate Greenwood

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