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Stuck in the Dark?

This week the narrative lectionary has us reading from the book of Jonah.  The basics of the story go like this:  God tells Jonah to preach repentance to the city of Nineveh.  Nineveh is the capital of Assyria, the enemy of Jonah's people.  The people that would one day destroy Jonah's nation.  Knowing that God was full of mercy, and with no intention of sharing that mercy with the enemy, Jonah ran the other way.  He got on a boat sailing in the opposite direction.  A storm threatened to capsize the boat.  Jonah admitted to the crew what he had done, and told them to throw him overboard.  They were reluctant to do so, but he insisted.  Jonah was swallowed by a giant fish.  He lived in the belly of the fish for three days.  When he finally cried out to God, the fish spit him up near the shore of Nineveh.  He made his way there, preached repentance, and they repented.  God forgave the people of Nineveh, and Jonah went off to sulk. This story has much to teach us, but this week I want to focus on Jonah's call to preach repentance to the enemy.   

"'Arise, go to Nineveh...and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.' But Jonah rose to flee." Jonah 1:1-3 (selected portion) 

When I was a child, my cousin was murdered by his best friend.  He was shot in the back while hunting.  His friend searched his body for money, stole the $5 he had in his pocket, and buried his body in the leaves.  After that, his friend came home, to my aunt's house, and had dinner with the family, like nothing had happened.  When my aunt asked about her son, his friend said he had seen him talking with "shady" people.  In time, it became clear that my cousin had been killed by his friend.  At first, it was a complicated case, with no witnesses or body. 

Now imagine, one night a judge comes to speak to my family.  The judge says "You know that you don't have enough evidence for this case, why don't you just let it go?  You just need to get past this, just shake hands, and move on."  How would you react to this?  Now imagine that it is not a local judge, but the final authority.  Beyond the supreme court, a judge with no superior, no chance for recourse or retrial, God.  How would you react?  That injustice you feel, that is what Jonah was experiencing when he was called to preach repentance to the people of Nineveh.

Jonah knew that repentance was connected with mercy and forgiveness, and he had no desire to offer this olive branch to his enemy.  He did not want mercy or forgiveness for them, yet that is what he was called to do.  Have you ever been called to offer mercy or grace to someone that did not deserve it?  If you find yourself in a dark place, maybe you are in the belly of the great fish, waiting to be spit back on the shore to offer grace and forgiveness to your enemy.  This is no easy task, so I offer this shining example:

It never was about the Assyrians.  Nobody remembers them, but we still tell the story of Jonah.  Where will the journey through the belly of the fish take you?

God, help us take the journey you are calling us to.  Help us to experience the healing you helped Jonah experience.  Walk with us in our weakness.  Amen.  


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