Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Beware of large fish and shady trees . . .

Today we dive back into the daily lectionary (which can be found here: http://gamc.pcusa.org/devotion/daily/2010/10/26/  ) and look at a passage from the book of Jonah.
Jonah, is in some ways the most interesting of prophets we have in the Old Testament because he is - at least for me - the one that it is easiest to relate to.  Some of the prophets, like Isaiah or Jeremiah, are so good and so devout that I certainly look up to them, but I don't relate to them. I can't imagine myself being like one of them.  
Jonah, on the other hand, is just like me.  In the passage we have today.  Jonah has already tried to run from God, been swallowed and spit out by a whale and is now at the gates of Nineveh, where God commands him to preach a warning and call for repentance.  A call the inhabitants Nineveh heed.  This greatly displeases Jonah - this is exactly what he expected to happen and why he ran from God's call in the first place.  He knew God was gracious and forgiving and didn't want to see the Nineveh receive forgiveness.  
[A little cultural/historical background here is helpful.  Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire.  The Assyrians were, to put it mildly really not nice.  Not only were they a vicious and brutal people they aggressively attacked their neighbors at every opportunity.  They had been enemies - bitter, hated enemies of the Israelites for centuries at this point.  If you are having trouble finding a reference point for the Assyrians, try thinking of them as terrorists living in Iraq or Afghanistan.]  
Understanding the historical and political context helps us understand where Jonah is coming from and helps us - or at least helps me - to identify with where he is coming from even more.  Most of us really don't want anything for the terrorists that have attacked this and other countries that for them to 'get what they deserve'.  Which is logical and understandable.  
But the lesson God tries to teach Jonah is a lesson for us to learn as well.  God uses the bush that gives Jonah shade as an object to teach that lesson.  
When the bush withers and dies because of the worm Jonah is beside himself and bitterly upset.  God asks Jonah why - he had nothing to do with the bush, he neither created it or caused it to grow, but yet he cares for it?  
The point is that God did create the bush and cause it to grow, just as he created the Assyrians living in Nineveh.   Just as he created each and everyone of us.  Even the terrorists and those that consider us enemies and those we consider our enemies.  God has created each and everyone of us and desires a reconciled relationship with each of his children.  
That was a hard pill for Jonah to swallow, I think it is a hard pill for many of us to swallow as well.  But it is a truth that we have to wrestle with and eventually submit to - God loves us and calls us into relationship with himself.  If we accept that relationship and accept adoption into the family of God we take on the responsibilities of being a part of that family.  The primary one being spreading and sharing God's love to all of God's children - even the ones we disagree with, even the ones that don't like us - even the ones we hate or that have hurt us.  
If we want to live into the light of God's love, grace and acceptance then we must understand and accept that it isn't just for us and those that look like, think like or act like us.  God's love is for everyone.  God's grace is for everyone.  God's acceptance is for everyone.  
The story of Jonah doesn't really have an ending.  The book ends with us not knowing how Jonah eventually decides to proceed.  It is an open question or better yet, it is a story with a . . . to be continued at the 'end'  We are the ones with the chance to continue the story.  With a chance to be the next to reach out to those around us -all of those around us with the Good News of God's love and grace - or we can sit on the sidelines angry that God might extend to someone else the vary grace that we ourselves received and needed.  
How will you continue the story?

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