The Minister writes

Dear All, 

In Jonah 3 we read of how following a perilous journey, running away from God, Jonah finally does as God has asked and goes to Nineveh to deliver God’s call to repent. And surprisingly (to Jonah at least!), the people do repent and God forgives them. Certainly, it’s fair to say that a lot has already happened in Jonah’s life by this point when God calls him a second time to go into Nineveh. And the clear focus of this part of the story is on the grace and mercy of God: when people respond positively to God’s call to repent, God quickly forgives. In fact, what the story suggests is that when the Ninevites repent, so does God, he has a change of heart and mind and stops threatening to bring calamity on the city.

If we have a little read of Jonah 3, we notice here that this parable is told without a lot of fanfare: Jonah goes partway into the city, begins to share his message, the people hear it and change their ways, so God relents from threatening to bring calamity. The End! Well, sort of! That is except we know what preceded these verses: Jonah and the ‘whale’. And what comes after it in chapter 4: Jonah and the plant. In particular, we know that Jonah is a reluctant prophet! We know that he didn’t want to go because he knew this is exactly what God would do and he was afraid that he’d look a fool. We might wish to consider how often we shy away from talking with people about our loving God, obviously while maintaining our respect for the other, because we are similarly afraid of the reaction and how we’ll look. And we consider how do we respond when we sense God calling us to do something hard or outside our comfort zone? Are we reluctant, making excuses, or are we prepared to give it a go or try a little harder? This story invites us to reflect on these kinds of questions.

Really, a character study on Jonah from this passage is an example to all of us. Having rebelled against God (chapters 1–2), we find him here with a second chance. There is no rubbing Jonah’s nose in the mess of his failure. God doesn’t hold grudges; forgiveness means the chance to start again. And Jonah’s calling is unchanged. God doesn’t say that since he messed up the first time, he’s going to get something less challenging to do. Friends, nothing puts us beyond the reach of God’s restoring grace. I think we can actually look at Jonah and rejoice. If he can be restored, there’s hope for all of us! And in Jonah 3, Jonah does what he should have done in the first place: he obeys. We may wish to explore who our good news is for. For sure, the Jonah parable tells us that it really is for everyone without exception. We see that God loves Nineveh and we wonder, what might this mean for us as a church? The message was good news for all of Nineveh’s citizens, from the poor in outlying shanty towns (v.4) to the yuppies and aristocrats (v.6) – God loved them all. Let’s be sure to never limit the gospel to people who are like us! All our neighbours, here and beyond are greatly loved by God. Let’s be sure to share in our words and deeds this amazing, transforming, inclusive love of God for all.

Grace and peace,


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