- 11 July 2022
- Stuart Robinson
The City of Nineveh – in Jonah’s time, was about the same size as the Federal seat of Wentworth, in which this parish is located; 120,000 + people (Jonah 4:11).
And what is more, the people of Nineveh, not unlike our wider community, were spiritually ‘lost’.
The Lord says to Jonah that they ‘do not know their right hand from their left’ (4:11).
It’s a reference to confusion and chaos.
But you see God had intervened, and the people had miraculously and immediately turned from (and I quote), their ‘evil ways’ and their ‘violence’ (vv 8, 10) – to God.
Every one of them.
No exceptions (verse 5).
They were transformed – from ‘wickedness and unrighteousness’ (1:2) to repentant ‘believers’ (verses 5, 10).
Here then, is a question:
Do we want that for Wentworth, for the Parish of South Head?
Do we want that for our wider community?
120,000+ people transformed – en masse – through the power and the presence of God?
Do we want that, really?
Think about your answer.
Because it would mean sitting (in our new and vastly expanded multi-level auditorium) with that rude shopkeeper who shouted at you when your mask wasn’t quite covering your nose, last year.
And then, reading the bible upfront in church is that couple who took you to court over that boundary matter.
And there’s that pesky family with those profane teenage kids; the ones who have those late-night parties with that drum and bass music playing until all hours…they’re on the welcome desk, for goodness sake!
Or the bloke who parks his boats right outside your house…he’s on morning tea!
And the people three doors up – you know the ones – those financial advisers whom you trusted with your investments – before they went into receivership; what is it now – five cents in the dollar? Lo and behold, there they are, taking up the collection!
And operating the data projector is that person out on parole, and behind him in the second row is that family who are often visited by Family and Community Services, and across from them, tuning up their violins and cellos with the other musicians, are those non-English speaking people who seem to have three generations living with them in their two-bedroom apartment over the newsagents shop.
‘These ‘outsiders’ are changing everything; I can’t even sit in ‘my’ pew, anymore!’ – you mutter.
Jonah 4:1 “But to Jonah, this all seemed very wrong, and he became angry”
The ‘this’, being referred to is, ‘outsiders’, Ninevites, turning their hearts Godward, and the forgiveness and mercy, that God extends to them (Jonah 3:10).
To Jonah, it all seemed very wrong.
And make no mistake, the Ninevites’ conversion – all 120,000 of them, was genuine.
This revival was the ‘real deal’.
And it was lasting.
We know this because Jesus himself spoke of this very generation of Ninevites as being saved, and that for eternity (Matthew 12:41).
And the orthodox Jonah is incensed.
‘Seriously?’, he says.
Jonah is deeply offended by God’s love and his heart for the lost, for ‘outsiders’, being drawn to faith, and enfolded into the family of God.
‘I knew, it, I just knew’ it he says: Jonah 4:2 – ‘Jonah prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity’.
Jonah has a head full of theology, and heart full of bitterness.
In fact, he says to God (in effect) that he’d rather be dead than live in a world where he’s required to regard the Ninevites as his sisters and his brothers (verse 3).
Jonah’s priorities are not God’s priorities, are they?
In many ways, I think we all might be able to relate to Jonah’s frustrations because our passions are often at odds with those of our Heavenly Father.
We forget – of course – that we are the ‘Ninevites’.
We are the ‘outsiders’, the Gentiles, the Ninevites!
The Bible could not be clearer (Ephesians 2:1-5).
You were living in your sins and lawless ways. But in fact, you were dead [to God]. 2 You used to live as sinners when you followed the ways of this world. You served the one who rules over the spiritual forces of evil. He is the spirit who is now at work in those who don’t obey God. 3 At one time we all lived among them. Our desires were controlled by sin. We tried to satisfy what they wanted us to do. We followed our desires and thoughts. God was angry with us like he was with everyone else. That’s because of the kind of people we all were. 4 But God loves us deeply. He is full of mercy. 5 So he gave us new life because of what Christ has done. He gave us life even when we were dead in sin. God’s grace has saved you.
So, with an object lesson, the Lord reveals to Jonah (and us the reader), Jonah’s self-centredness – though we never learn if Jonah actually ‘gets it’.
We heard from the reading how Jonah erects a lean-to, of sorts, and how God – in his sovereign purposes – covers Jonah and the lean-to with a gloriously leafy plant that sheltered Jonah from the elements (4:6-8).
And the text says that unlike the miraculous salvation of the Ninevites – with which Jonah was furious, by contrast, Jonah was delighted with the plant (verse 6) that God provided.
Then, we read that the Lord – in his sovereign purposes, provides a worm to destroy the plant – and searing winds, to unsettle Jonah, such that once again, Jonah says he’d rather be dead then live in a world where God’s is at the helm; “Jonah wanted to die, and said, it would be better for me to die than to live” (verse 8).
And when challenged by the Lord …Jonah says that he is so indignant, and so incensed at God’s exercise of his sovereign will (in the demise of the plant) – that he too (he Jonah) would prefer to wither and die (4:9)
The Lord’s focus is on the plight of spiritually lost Ninevites – and remarkably it is on his servant Jonah – with whom he engages without rancour or malice, whom he teaches patiently, and with whom he is long-suffering – whereas Jonah is consumed by self-righteousness and contempt for God’s mercy.
Our gospel reading today (Matthew 9:35-38) brings into even clearer relief God’s mercy and grace – and the action we need to take, this morning, as a result.
Jesus looked upon the vast crowds whom he was releasing from all forms of oppression and bondage, and reported to his friends the true spiritual condition of the people – they were harassed and helpless.
Jesus uses the image of lost sheep, torn apart and discarded by a marauding predator; they are rudderless, vulnerable, and pitiful are these crowds.
And Jesus’ response to this deeply troubling reality is three-fold:
First (unlike Jonah), Jesus is deeply moved to the core of his being, by the plight of the crowds.
Compassion consumes him.
Second, he urges his followers to fall to prayer and to plead with God, the ‘Lord of the harvest’ to send people to out, to bring the lost in.
And third, those whom he urges to pray, are in 10:1, the very ones Jesus then sends out as missioners and agents of grace.
That is, they are the answer to their own prayers.
- Outreach (or witness)
Or as St. Paul explained to his friends and to us – and with this I close, Colossians 4:2.
2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3 And pray that God may open a door for our message, so that we might proclaim the mystery of Christ 5 Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.