In todays readings we connect the story of the reluctant prophet Jonah with that of the obedient Son Jesus. The bridge connecting them is the need for repentance and how much more powerful is the call of Jesus than Jonah. Sitting between these two readings is the Psalm calling for purification from sin.
For those of us aware of our personal fault-lines and that of the world in which we live this maybe sufficient for faith. Jonah’s reluctant call to the people of Nineveh resulted in salvation for them in the face of the imminent wrath of God.
Yet a wrathful God about to wipe out even one whole city because of human nature is not an understanding of God I find easy to live with. This is not about God being a God of love who simply wouldn’t do this but about a God who values human nature so much he came amongst us to be the archetype human being, living a life of obedience unto death.
Even the story of Jonah points to the value God places on humanity. A wrathful God would not have rescued Jonah. Someone who was so much bother, so sinful in terms of obedience to the will of God was, it seems to me, already set for the same destruction as the people of Nineveh. God goes to so much trouble to bring Jonah to repentance, again reluctantly, if we go on and read Jonah’s reaction to the redemption of Nineveh, it speaks of the value just one person has in the sight of God.
Jonah’s personal return gave hope for those in Nineveh – he was a sign of the value God places on the created world. The people of Nineveh become aware through the life and words of Jonah of just how much they were valued by God and respond, perhaps not so much to God’s wrath, but God’s hesed – unfailing compassion and generosity.
The life, death and resurrection of Jesus promises the same hope for us, and it is up to us recognise who values us and what that value means for our day-to-day life. Jonah wasn’t valued because he was perfect he was valued because he was human. God did not focus on his sin but on his capacity for obedience, stuttering as it was, resulting in the redemption of both him and others.
This is a powerful truth. God values us not because we are sinners in need for a blood sacrifice but because we are conscious creatures capable of great blessing. The obedience of Jonah is celebrated in the obedience of others his goodness brings about. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus is celebrated in the lives, deaths and resurrections of ordinary human beings who embrace his life of obedience and justice.
Our journey this lent is to be one away from the wrathful God who punishes human beings for being human – for sin, and towards a God who values human beings as creatures of immense possibility, compassion and hope and who have the example of Jesus and the companionship of the Holy Spirit for the journey into wholeness, love and justice.