Journey with Jonah Part 3
Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”3 Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. 4 Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” 5 The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.6 When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” 10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, He relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.
Second tries on earth rooted in the first invitations of heaven are not limited by the error of the former but unbounded by the promise of the latter.
In the kingdom it doesn’t matter that you didn’t.
It matters that you do.
As St. Paul said, the gift is acceptable not according to what one does not have, but according to what one does. God measures us not by the constraints of our humanity but our willingness to accept the magnitude of His divinity. Our insufficiencies are not inadequacies in achieving the kingdom but opportunities to finally understand it.
Jonah did not obey. But then he did. God worked through it. The Ninevites were unconcerned about it. Jonah ultimately couldn’t get past it. The incredible thing about life in the kingdom, however, is that the will of heaven shall prevail regardless of our opinion as to its value. A whole society of the wicked will repent when one saint shows them how, a message born from the pain of disobedience that reaches the worst of offenders because it came not from a theory of who God might be but a lived reality of Who He is unquestionable Is.
Jonah is like us. Only in realizing we are not can we meet the I AM. We encounter the One who cannot be changed when we comprehend that we must above all become different. We finally embrace the God who sees the world as it truly is when we leave behind our perception of how it ought to be.
People who are experts at telling God what to do often become His greatest examples. Peter says go away I am a sinful man and becomes God’s choice to proclaim the first message of grace and conviction rooted in the power of the Holy Spirit, and three thousand people give themselves over to Jesus. Jesus promises him a death that will bring God glory and take away Peter’s control. Paul rages against the perceived heresy of the gospel and is selected by Jesus to become its chief apostle. He is told by the Lord
“how much he will suffer for My Name.” When we get into the business of deciding how God will accomplish His we will soon discover He will deal with ours. The beauty of God is that He invites spiritual meddlers to become gospel peddlers, those who think they know better to have the mind of Christ, those who walk in pride to live through humility. Time and time and time and time and time again pounding into the surf of the human soul is this single wave of truth, that the Creator has not ceased in His infinite endeavor of infusing all that can be with the power of who He Is and that this continuous and incessant act of creation occurs when the soul is liberated from the burden of saving itself.
Jonah is a man of tremendous relatability. God tells Jonah to proclaim a message of destruction and judgement, but to Jonah even such a message will be influenced by the possibility that future enemies of his own people might know the boundless love of his present God. How could it be that they should have Him? It is dangerous when we feel that grace is ours to give as we desire rather than God requires, that what we have received freely must for others come at great cost, when it is Nineveh that needs to respond to what we ourselves hesitate to accept.
Jonah is frightened not by the God who can toss the waves but is tender with the heart. He can sleep when God is raging and runs when God is loving. He can nap at discipline but sprint from affection. Jonah was willing to sink to the bottom of the sea before his enemies reached the edge of their knees. Better death than love. It is a scary place to be when what we dread is not what our foes might do to us, but what God might do to our foes. Specifically, define them as His friends. Because we know that those whom God has called beloved we no longer possess the right to deem as wretched.
This must be an element of human existence of continuous need for revival. Jesus heals lepers left untouched. Jesus speaks to women too often touched. He reaches those as lost by abandonment as those emptied by false affection. Jesus teaches us that our neighbor is the person most likely to be passed by with the best of reasons. In ministry especially we are great at the all-powerful boundary – an obtuse series of self-defined parameters pastors and counselors pull out to exclude the unlovely and inconvenient from using our time, which is evidently reserved for souls of greater value. But the waste of time is not the person begging for someone to attend to them but whatever was deemed of superior worth than such an eternal task. The promise of heaven is that God will never leave us without His presence, but the practice of many pastors is hesitation to offer earth what heaven guarantees. And I can include myself, at my worst self, as one who once imagined that beyond people there was a purpose greater than the love of their soul. And when I felt that way most intensely was when I was furthest from having my own soul adored. Having lacked, I withheld. So Jonah I can begin to understand your actions although I suppose myself superior to their motives. Yet you and I are not so different.
God gives the people of Nineveh a date and time to meet their destiny. They respond with a repentance which knows neither class nor power, money nor fame, privilege nor peasantry. The king puts on rags because he wants his spiritual condition to be represented by his physical one, knowing that before God the slave and the ruler are the same. A whole city, an entire seat of power and influence, is savaged by the realization of what and whom they have become – in part because such knowledge was finally found in the waves of the deep by one who resisted his call in the beginning and would be found bitter at its success in the end. But public repentance was predicated by personal obedience, as is often the case in the kingdom. And it is doubtful our lives will be any different.
Before us is a world which needs us because above us is a God who desires to use us despite the condition of the souls within us apart from the work done for us.
May we just let the Holy Spirit have total access to our hearts as He connects what beats within us for the desire of the One who bled for us. Everything we can offer the world below is covered in the red from heaven above. At great price has been placed in our hands a message of eternal power.
We cannot begin to ask why.
We just have to say yes.
May your life and words preach well,