“The world as we know it is passing.”
The lectionary version of Jonah chapter three is somewhat misleading for it does not make clear that this is the second time the Lord commanded Jonah to go to Nineveh. It appears as though Jonah responded as readily to God’s bidding as did Simon, Andrew, James and John in the Gospel reading. Jonah, however, as the story goes, first sought to avoid the commandment of God by fleeing to Tarshish.
Tarshish, a renown city of pleasure in Jonah’s day, was a favorite vacation spot for moneyed Israelites. It was a city similar to modern day Las Vegas. Perhaps Jonah thought that God would not be found in such a place and thus he could avoid being forced to do something that was contrary to everything he felt and believed. But why would going to Nineveh be such an awful task? Simply put, Nineveh was a national enemy to Israel. Jonah’s patriotic zeal left him no room for believing that God could care for this “evil empire.” God was on Israel’s side and no other. And so Jonah, like many of us are apt to do, sought to salve the irritation of God’s conviction through a little self indulgence in what this world has to offer.
But God was determined to send a message to Jonah and to all of Israel that he was the God of all nations and had no tolerance for jingoism. Therefore, God changed Jonah’s Vegas vacation plans into an underwater adventure ending on the sandy shores of Nineveh. Jonah, bleached white after three days in the belly of a whale, with sea weed dangling from his arms and legs, walked the streets of Nineveh shouting “Repent, the End is Near!” Seeing such a ghastly sight the Ninevites hastily responded. Unfortunately, however, Jonah himself remained unconverted; committed to his warring, xenophobic ways – cursing God for loving his enemies
The message of the Gospel and of Corinthians is not unlike that given at Nineveh. “Repent for God loves you. Don’t be too attached to this world for a new world is coming.” Neither Jesus nor Paul were confused in their eschatology, believing the end of the world was immanent. Yet in fact they did believe that a new kind of world was even then breaking into the midst of a fading world. They believed a new kingdom, a new world order was dawning that was to be characterized by a sole commitment to the King, a love that removes all barriers – national, racial, or gender, and a willingness to put primary the spreading of this good news to the world, be that Nineveh, Cuba, North Korea or Iraq.
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time Jon 3: 1-10; I Cor 7: 29-31; Mk 1: 15
Peace Connections: Making the connection between the Sunday Readings and issues of peace and justice. Copyright 1995, by Thomas L. Garlitz. “Not for profit” permission to reprint granted.