Lectionary passages for Jan. 25. Jonah 3:1-10, Psalm 62, 1 Cor. 7:29-31, Mark 1:14-20
I held off blogging this week until I could meet with Liz, our preacher for Sunday. I'm glad I did that, because it helped me reaffirm something I already knew but always need to learn again. That is; it is crucial for people of faith to talk together about the meaning of scripture! We traded insights, ideas, and encouragement. So much better than doing this alone!
We are both captivated by the story of Jonah. It's a humorous, ironic tale thoroughly soaked through with meaning for those who wish to see it. The humour helps to lower the defences and inhibitions of the reader, opening them up to deep consideration of the core issues. (You have to read the whole thing, not just the suggested snippet!)
Jonah tries to run from God. This is the first "funny". For the original readers, the idea of anyone, let alone a respected prophet, thinking they can escape God is simply ridiculous. Then there's the whole idea of this respected man spending 3 ignominious days in the belly of a fish. The fish takes him, completely against his will, to the place he doesn't want to go. Nineveh, a city full of people that Jonah considers wicked, depraved, and valueless. He only walks partway into the city, and "bang, even the cows are wearing sackcloth!" (When Liz said that, I burst out laughing. The mental picture is too funny!) The thought that a whole city could convert this quickly and thoroughly because of a reluctant prophet is staggering.
At issue is the battle between human will and control and God's grace. God is able to use Jonah against his will and beyond his skills, and accomplish something amazing. It is ironic that in the story it is God who is able to "relent and change his mind" (verse 9) whereas Jonah is stubbornly stuck .
This story is hugely encouraging when we are faced with problems we want to run from and tasks we feel are impossible. Take courage! This is about God, not the innate ability of any person or the complexity of any problem. There may be no avoiding the hard times, in fact, they might even be necessary along the journey to something better.
The Jonah story also bears an amazing resemblance to the passion of Jesus. Jonah is thrown into the sea, spends 3 days in darkness in the chaos of the deep. His emergence results in the salvation of many. The Jesus story is similar, except that Jesus is not a reluctant savior. He fully and willingly sacrifices himself and goes into the darkness, knowing that when he comes out of it,there will be a new life possible for us "Ninevites" if we are open to hearing his call.
There is a lot here to laugh at, but also to chew on. We know that life is hard, that sometimes we have to deal with situations that are beyond our skill, understandings, and abilities. Running doesn't work. Entering the darkness and trusting in God that eventually we'll emerge onto (or be spit out onto) a sunny beach has promise.
"Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us." Psalm 62:8
We need to enter into that place of trust, especially when we feel swallowed by a big stinky fish of a problem.