Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Let's hear it for the preacher!

Jonah 3:1-5,10

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.  When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

It is said that it is a woman’s prerogative to change her mind. Clearly this privilege belongs also to God – and the Ninevites. Hearing Jonah’s message about their impending doom, they change their ways and turn aside God’s wrath. Jonah must have been some preacher! it intrigues me that we don’t celebrate his preaching prowess or even acknowledge the fact that his rhetoric convinced a whole city to repent and escape annihilation. Instead we make a parody of how he ran from God’s call, stowed away on a ship, was tossed overboard and swallowed by a great fish. Nor do we pause to wonder that God gave Jonah the benefit of being commissioned a second time, after refusing to accept the first challenge.
It sometimes appears that the mission of Biblical interpreters is to cast a spotlight on how flawed many Biblical characters were. Even to point out the many failings of those now considered “giants of faith”
Is that to make today’s disciples look better?
Is it so that our failings don’t seem so terrible?
I’m advocating that, just for a moment, we celebrate Jonah’s effective preaching and maybe even applaud the adventures he experienced in his circuitous journey to Nineveh.  Let’s give him cool points for striding into the middle of a city to proclaim God’s word, a word that wasn’t pleasant to hear if you were a Ninevite.
Jonah did all this even though, from the first time God called him, he was able to predict the outcome. Nevertheless, he put his heart and soul into it and turned around a nation. Isn’t that worth celebrating?

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