Sunday, January 21, 2018

Off to Nineveh again!


We hear today the well-known story of Jonah. As a child, I had one of those illustrated children’s Bible’s that I’m sure many of you had. In addition to the Scriptures it was filled with amazing artwork to help bring the stories to life. To this day, I can call to mind the image of Noah’s Arc being tossed by the storm. I remember the dramatic image from Mark’s gospel of the story of the man who was lowered through the roof of the house by his friends so that Jesus could heal him. And I remember Jonah with the dramatic picture of him thrown on the beach from the belly of the whale that brought him to Nineveh.

Our passage from Jonah today picks up in the next chapter of his story. It’s an understatement to say that Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh. In fact, that is the whole point of the whale. Jonah will not go where God is sending him and it takes a God-directed whale to bring him there. The city of Nineveh represented the worst of everything – it was a place of godlessness, immorality, and corruption. Nineveh was the capital of the empire that had conquered the kingdom of Judah. They looted and destroyed the Temple, and carried people into exile and slavery. For religious Jews like Jonah, Nineveh was a literally godforsaken place, and there was no hope it would change. As far as Jonah was concerned, announcing God’s message in Nineveh was a complete waste of time. Of course, the great surprise in the story is that as soon as the so-called “godforsaken” people heard the Word of God, they received it with eagerness, repented with sincerity, and regained God’s mercy and forgiveness. They found God in their lives again. And, they were a reminder to Jonah and to us that “nothing is impossible with God.”

My friends, the message for us today is that what God asked of Jonah, God asks of us. God wants each one of us to be His witnesses, His servants, His messengers. He wants us to be the deliverers of His message that no one is beyond His love, no one is beyond His forgiveness; no one is beyond the ability to be changed from darkness into light, from sorrow to joy, from sin into glory – all by the loving mercy of our God.

It doesn’t matter what education we possess, or how dedicated we may be, or what we have to bring to the mix; it doesn’t matter what others think of our ability to be holy; or even the sins we have committed. God doesn’t look at what we have done, but rather God sees who we can be. God doesn’t worry about who or what we are; His concern is what we can become when we follow His will for us. If God calls us, it is only because He knows that we can accomplish what He asks. After all, remember what our Gospel shows us today – that in and through God, fishermen are transformed into fishers of souls. Their work is transformed from self-centered to God-centered, from self-seeking to seeking only the glory of God and the benefit of all people.

My brothers and sisters, God is still sending each of us on mission to Nineveh today. He wants us to bring His Word to any and all of the places where it is missing; even to the places that seem the farthest away from Him. God invites us to be the Good News spoken to unimaginable places and “impossible” situations. The good news for us is that these “hopeless” cases are not hopeless after all. For if even Nineveh could turn back to God so can any situation we encounter in life. Nothing – no difficulty, no hurt or pain, no illness, no broken relationship – nothing, is beyond the power of God to heal, to change, to turn into glory.

God once again today wants to form us into His disciples making a difference in the world, just like the Apostles and just like Jonah. All we need to give Him today is our humble, open and willing hearts.

May the Lord give you peace.

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