Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it for their wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up.
This week we will reflect on the story of Jonah and his response to God’s call for him. Jonah was a known prophet in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The book of Jonah begins with God telling him “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it for their wickedness has come up before me.” This may have been a strange request for Jonah because Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria, would have been an enemy city to him as an Israelite. Instead of listening to God, Jonah turns and flees to another city. The story might have been a lot shorter and involved one less storm and one less giant fish if Jonah had just done what God had asked. So why is it then that Jonah chooses to run away when God calls him to prophesy?
Jonah was a prophet and the role of prophets during this time was not to predict the future, but to speak truth to power and to talk honestly about abuses of creation. Later in Jonah 4:2 we learn that he fled because he knew that God is gracious, “merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.” Jonah did not want to prophesy a message of truth and mercy to Nineveh when God asked him to because he did not feel that they deserved it. Jonah was not willing to share the graciousness of God because of his own biases about the Ninevites.
It may be tempting to distance ourselves from Jonah’s choice to deny people a message of truth and mercy because he believed they were unworthy! However, if we are honest with ourselves, what are the biases we may have that prevent us from showing graciousness to those around us? Who are those people that we consider “wicked”, criminal, enemies, or undeserving of forgiveness? Who is it that we consider wicked and unworthy of gracious truth and love today? Our racist family member? Co-worker? Friend?
Chinese American revolutionary and activist, Grace Lee Boggs, said that in order for revolutionary change to happen: “It’s a question of two-sided transformation and not just the oppressed versus the oppressor. We have to change ourselves in order to change the world.”
Today God is already calling us to prophesy about God’s gracious, just, and steadfast love to those around us. One way we are experiencing God’s call is through our Black brothers, sisters, and siblings who are demanding their claim to life! Are we ready to listen to God’s call?
As Grace Lee Boggs expressed, we need to ask the Holy Spirit to transform our own minds, hearts, and biases so that we can be prophets for more just transformation in the world. We know we will come to situations where God tells us to speak truth in love to those who need it most, will we be ready to do so?
Merciful, gracious, and loving God we ask that you will reveal our biases and hesitations to follow your call. Grow compassion and mercy in us towards those that we find tough to love. We welcome your truth and justice in our world, in our neighborhoods, and within ourselves. Amen.
Written by: Cassie Chee, Pastoral Intern