As an act of grace, the story continues with God’s word coming to Jonah a second time. God’s response not only frees Jonah from his predicament but reminds Jonah who he is and what he is called to do. Verse 1 refers to Nineveh as a “great city”—one of the larger cities in the Old Testament—with a population of more than 120,000. Trying to convert a city this size is no small feat.
We can only imagine what Jonah is thinking his first day of travel. Has God’s grace stunned him? Is he still working through his anger? Or does he graciously accept his role in bringing healing, even to the Ninevites?
Remarkably, the Ninevites take Jonah’s words to heart. They “believed God.” They don’t necessarily believe the messenger or the message; they do believe that Yahweh will follow through on the threat that their city will be overthrown. They receive that word with sincerity—an amazing turnaround—and disaster is averted. “God changed his mind.”
In setting Jonah on this course, God believes that the Ninevites can change, and the Ninevites bank on God’s willingness, in freedom, to change the judgment. “They proclaimed a fast, and everyone . . . put on sackcloth.” The story conveys a powerful testimony to God’s grace.
How often would we, like Jonah, prefer that people get what’s coming to them? Yet God gives Jonah and the Ninevites another chance, and God’s freedom and responsiveness offer us that same second and third opportunity.
Compassionate God, thank you for second and third chances. Thank you for using even us. Amen.
Things are not always as they seem. To Jonah it appears that the people of Nineveh are beyond hope, so he runs away rather than going to preach to them. God has other plans; to Jonah’s surprise, the Ninevites turn to God. To our eyes, social standing and wealth may seem to divide people into different classes; but the psalmist declares that in God’s economy, all are equal and will be repaid the same. Paul echoes the theme of the temporary nature of all things in this life; they should not be our source of security. Jesus opens his ministry in Mark by proclaiming that God is breaking into history to overthrow what has been accepted as the way things are. Sometimes God’s perspective is not our perspective.
• Read Jonah 3:1-5, 10. When have you experienced God’s call to a task you would have preferred not to undertake? What happened? What did you learn about God?
• Read Psalm 62:5-12. When have you experienced God as refuge and fortress? How do you actively embody God’s hope and offer it to others?
• Read 1 Corinthians 7:29-31. How lightly do you hold your job, your relationships, your possessions, given the passing nature of the present age?
• Read Mark 1:14-20. When have you heard Jesus call to you to follow? How did you respond?
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