By Barbara Klugh
Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:6-14; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. This week’s readings are about deciding how we want to live our lives. Will we go the way of our egos and run away from God or submit to God’s plan for us, and follow Jesus?
Jonah 3:1-5: Our appointed text is just a snippet of the Jonah story, but I’m going with the whole story. I urge you to take a few minutes and read the entire story—it’s only three pages long and, besides being fun to read, it contains a serious theological message.
You probably know the tale. God calls Jonah to proclaim judgment to the people of Nineveh, capital of the wicked Assyrian Empire. Instead of submitting to God, Jonah tries to run away from God by boarding a ship going in the opposite direction. It wasn’t that he felt unworthy, but Jonah he doesn’t want the Ninevites to repent and escape God’s punishment. It doesn’t work. God sends a mighty storm, and Jonah persuades the sailors to throw him overboard, knowing he is the reason for the storm. Jonah ends up in the belly of a great fish for three days, turns to God in prayer, and the fish spits him out onto dry land. Jonah then obeys God and preaches to Nineveh. Jonah was so persuasive that the entire city repents, and God spares Nineveh. But Jonah is angry with God for his mercy. The book concludes with God saying, “Should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”
In his January 4 sermon, Daniel invited us to think about what we can learn about the nature of God as revealed in the person of Jesus when he was found in the temple “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.”
I wonder what we can learn about the nature of God and of our place in God’s story from the Book of Jonah. No doubt there are many possible perspectives, but here are few things I notice. Many of us can identify with Jonah. Who of us hasn’t tried to run away from God’s call? But God can work with even the most reluctant and inept among us to accomplish his purposes. When Jonah was thrown into the raging sea, the sea calmed and the pagan sailors ended up praying to our God. Sometimes God allows us to stew in our own juices for a time—in the belly of the fish—so that we may turn to him in humility. God is a God of second chances, for Jonah, for Nineveh, and for us. When God rescued Jonah from the fish, and Jonah delivered God’s message of judgment to Nineveh, the whole city repented, turned away from evil and violence, and God changed his mind about the calamity he had planned. Here we see that God’s love and forgiveness extends to whole world—even to our enemies, because God is “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.” The Jonah story brings to mind the profound words by the priest in Graham Greene’s novel, Brighton Rock, “You cannot conceive, nor can I, of the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God.”
Psalm 62:6-14: Attributed to David, our psalm is one of patient trust and confidence in God’s saving help. The final verse reads, “Steadfast love is yours, O Lord, for you repay everyone according to his deeds.” Based on my experiences with God, I changed it to “for you repay everyone according to your mercy.”
1 Corinthians 7:29-31: In chapter 7, Paul responds to a letter by the Corinthian Church that contained six questions about marriage, being single, divorce, marriage to an unbelieving spouse, and the status of virgins and widows: “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote….” Paul makes it clear that all should “live the life the Lord has assigned, to which God has called you.” In other words, Paul understands that not all have received the gift of celibacy. As an aside, some commentators speculate that Paul may have been married before his conversion—that perhaps he was widowed, or maybe he and his wife separated when he turned to Christ.
In our brief reading, Paul is addressing virgins—those who have never been married. It’s unclear to scholars whether he is addressing couples who are already betrothed. Should single people marry? In general, Paul counsels people to refrain from making any changes in their marital status. Because Paul is convinced that the return of Christ is imminent, he advises people to free their lives from distraction and give their undivided attention to the Lord because “the present form of this world is passing away.” Regardless of our marital status, all of us would live more fruitful lives if we cut down on meaningless distractions so that we could spend our precious time on the things that matter most.
Mark 1:14-20: After Jesus was baptized by John, the Holy Spirit drove him into the desert where he was tested by Satan for forty days. When his time of testing was over, he learned that John the Baptist had been arrested.
In this week’s reading, Jesus began his ministry in Galilee “proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’” Repent meant to let go of business as usual and return to God’s way in response to the good news.
Jesus set about recruiting others to join him. As he was walking along the Sea of Galilee, he sees Simon (aka Peter) and Andrew casting a net into the sea and Jesus said, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. Then Jesus saw James and John, and immediately he called them, too. They “left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.” In Mark for Everyone, N.T. Wright comments, “Jesus was now calling them to trust the good news that their God was doing something new. To get in on the act, they had to cut loose from other ties and trust him and his message. That wasn’t easy then and isn’t easy now. But it’s what Peter, Andrew, James and John did, and it’s what all Christians are called to do today, tomorrow, and into God’s future.”