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Sitting up all night with Jonah

by davesandel on October 5th, 2021

Tuesday, October 5, 2021                               (today’s lectionary)

Sitting up all night with Jonah

A woman named Martha had a sister named Mary. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to him. Martha was burdened with much serving and complained to Jesus about her sister.

Jonah set his face like flint and went to Nineveh, the Lord’s unwilling messenger of repentance and salvation. The Ninevites heard him! Their king led the people and they turned away from their sin. Turn back, O man, forswear thy foolish ways … Earth shall be fair and all her people one, not till that hour shall God’s whole will be done … it seems Jonah is leading the way to this paradise, the Pied Piper taking the children back to this Eden lost but now found, back to God’s amazing grace. Follow me, Jonah might say. Turn back, O man. But.

Nineveh was an enormously large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah began his journey through the city.

I haven’t seen the movie. Jonah’s words echoed God’s intentions, but what was he thinking?

Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed. But the people believed and proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, all of them, great and small.

Jonah stood on the street corner. He has completed his first day’s work, and everyone is echoing his warning to their neighbors. Already the whole city has heard his words. There’s nothing now for him except to decide what to have for supper and find a place to sleep.

Flannery O’Connor might have had a fine time with this story. She wrote Wise Blood about a troubled prophet-preacher who in the end wore barbed wire inside his shirt and walked in shoes filled with jagged rocks and pebbles. What would she have done with the night Jonah now saw before him? Jonah did not want the Ninevites to repent! He knew they were evil. God was being too easy on them.

When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them.

Is God turning his back on his messenger, who cherishes the idea of death and destruction for those Philistines? Paul told the Romans (and us) to “leave room for God’s wrath.” In Psalm 109 David calms his own bitter soul by calling on God’s hand to strike his enemies. “May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. He wore cursing as his garment. Now may it be a cloak forever wrapped around him. May this be the Lord’s payment to my accusers.” If the Lord does not do this bloody work for us, what are we to do? Take it on ourselves?

The Lord said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

I hear that if I eat less or nothing for a couple hours before sleep, my digestive organs won’t use up all my excess blood. Then I will dream more and remember the dreams. But I have trouble with the eating part. Ice cream seems like such a nice way to say goodnight.

For Jonah it may have been fish and chips, with some melon, dates, figs and very ripe olives. This was a special night for God’s messenger; he would have been fed like a king, like the servant of God that he was. But I wonder if he could stomach any of it. Or if he could sleep at all.

Jonah surely was a man of hot temper. God picked him for this work, and he found he could not say no. Is he learning anything?

Out of the depth I cry to you, O Lord, hear my voice as I call out to you in supplication.

What do you want, Jonah?

The psalmist doesn’t speak for Jonah, now. He speaks for God:

If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, Lord who can stand?

With you is forgiveness, with you is kindness, with you comes redemption.

Jonah has trouble with this. He can’t stand these words in his ears, all night long. Today’s psalm goes on:

I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Jonah, put your hope in the Lord. What a mixed up guy you are. Will you wear barbed wire under your shirt made of hair? Get some sleep, tomorrow is another day.

(Jonah 3, Psalm 130, Luke 11, Luke 10)         

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