Third Sunday after Epiphany (Jan 21st)

Pastor's Summary of Jonah 3:1-5, 10

Jonah is the archetypical reluctant prophet. Earlier, in 1:2, God has called him to "Go at once to Nineveh...and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me" but he has tried to escape by sailing to the ends of the earth. God has punished him by having a large fish swallow him.

Now God commands Jonah a second time: God is not going to let him off! He now obeys: he goes to the capital of Assyria, "an exceedinly large city" (3:3). (Excavations show that it was about 11/2 miles in diameter. He goes into the city, but only part-way ("a day's walk", 3:4): half measures are good enough for him. Nineveh will be "overthrown" or destroyed. In 3:5, the residents react to this oracle: they believe God (in the person of his prophet) and acknowledge their godlessness. 3:6-9 (not part of our reading) tell us the King's reaction and edict: he dons "sackcloth" and sits in "ashes"-traditional signs of mourning and repentance; he decrees three stages of repentance for all: (1) admission of guilt, by way of ourward signs; (2) change in each person's attitude to others (in turning away from evil and violence); (3)acknowledgement of God's freedom in how he responds to repentance ("he may turn from his fierce anger", 3:9). Then 3:10: God does change his mind: he accepts their repentance and delivers them.

Obviously this is a story, but it is one that teaches; it is a parable. It illuminates an issue of its time, the waywardness of Israel. God is central and powerful. He can favor whomever he chooses, even hated enemies of the past.