Well, this Sunday we wrapped up our series “Now Serving Minors: A Journey through the Minor Prophets.” We read Jonah 4 (it’s only 10 verses if you want to pause and read it now). As I was studying Jonah, James Limburg’s commentary was helpful (Interpretation: Hosea – Micah). He encourages the readers and hearers of Jonah to ask three questions: (1) Who is Jonah?; (2) Who are the Ninevites?; and (3) Who is God?
Who is Jonah?
Jonah is an insider or a believer; he is God’s man. He is an angry little man (not an elf) and is upset because he does not know how to deal with God’s abundance. Like the grumbling laborers in Matthew 20:1-16, Jonah is upset because God abundantly pours out his love on the Ninevites. “It’s not fair!”, we can hear Jonah say, “Why should the Ninevites receive the same pay, the same love, as you give to us Israelites?” Like the disgruntled older brother Jonah complains that God has welcomed a sinner back into the fold. We, like Jonah and the laborers and the brother, wrestle with receiving God’s abundance. We often do not know how to receive God’s amazing love. We can at least learn how not to receive it from Jonah’s example.
Who are the Ninevites?
The Ninevites are outsiders, along with the sailors in chapter one, people who do not belong to the community of God’s people. As Dr. Limburg points out, we can learn at least two things from the outsiders. First, we have a lot to learn from them. The sailors, not Jonah, teach us how to respond to God’s presence. The Ninevites, not Jonah, teach us how to respond to God’s presence. They remind us of other outsiders who teach us what it means to have faith – Ruth, Roman Centurions, Canaanite Women, etc. Lord, save us from assuming that we who are on the inside have nothing to gain from those who are on the outside. Second, we learn that outsiders may be more ready to respond to the good news than we assume. Again, the sailors, not Jonah, respond to God’s activity by worshiping Yahweh. It is the Ninevites who quickly repent and call on God’s mercy, not Jonah.
Who is God?
Jonah teaches us that God is the God of the insiders as well as the outsiders. I recently met a man named Asad from Afghanistan. On Saturday we had a conversation in which he told me that there is only one God. He believed that Jesus was a prophet, but that all people in all places really pray to one God. If only Asad knew how right he was. Outsiders have a glimpse of this God, but they do not know this God. Jonah teaches me that God is the God of mission. as an insider I have the responsibility and privilege of revealing to the Asads of the world that there is one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
This is the God who, throuh the death of Jesus, offers to all who will receive it the forgiveness of sin. This is the God who, through the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, offers to all born of the Spirit newness of life as being raised with Jesus. This is the God who, in the promised return of Jesus, creates an expectation in the people of God that his promise is sure and true. This is the God we proclaim in the mystery of our faith: Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again. Whenever we come to the Lord’s Table we are proclaiming this God: we remember Jesus’ death, we celebrate his resurrection and presence among us, and we anticipate his return to rescue and renew all creation.
This is the good news that Jonah proclaims.