For Jan. 22, 2012: 3 Epiphany, Year B

The Reading    Jonah 3:1-5, 10
When God first sent Jonah to preach repentance to Nineveh, Jonah tried to run away from God. This attempt makes more sense when we realize that Nineveh was not only un-Jewish, it was the capital city of Israel’s biggest enemy, the repressive Assyrian empire. In today’s reading, Jonah obeys. How do you think the Assyrians will respond?

The Epistle    1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Whether or not we believe that the end times will occur within our lifetimes, the message of Paul’s first letter to Corinth is timeless and timely: for living the faith and doing the work of God, the right time is always right now.

Further thoughts
Two of today’s scriptures pose challenges for us that are familiar—and familiarly difficult to contemplate. The letter to the Corinthians explains that business as usual is over, because the end of the world is imminent; Paul believed this and lived this, leaving the privileges of a Pharisee to serve as God’s errand boy to the Gentiles. At the other end of the social scale, the gospel shows the humble fisherfolk Simon, Andrew, James, and John dropping everything to follow Jesus. This is clearly serious business: if our worth as Christians hangs on our willingness to forsake all our other responsibilities at a word, most of us today just don’t measure up.

For the rest of us, there’s Jonah. The book of Jonah is full of ironies and surprises and some of the Bible’s funniest material. Though it’s easy to sneer at Jonah, it’s wise to sympathize: what will a Jewish boy accomplish preaching repentance to this Mesopotamian empire of Jew-oppressing pagans? So Jonah sails for Tarshish, which could be in southern Turkey or northern Africa or even southern Spain—in short, Anywhere Else. When his ship nearly sinks, Jonah begs the terrified sailors to throw him overboard; God will save them, and drowning still gets him out of going to Nineveh. A huge fish sent by God swallows Jonah and pukes him up near home. Once Jonah’s decent again, God orders him back to Nineveh. Jonah goes this time, and succeeds wildly beyond expectation: Jonah 3:6-9 shows even the animals in sackcloth. God then elects to spare all the Ninevites— whereupon Jonah stomps off and pouts: how dare God change God’s mind and let these bad boys off the hook? God’s response is not to blast Jonah into next week for insubordination, but rather to give him shade.

The book of Jonah is read by Jews in its entirety on Yom Kippur, the very solemn Jewish Day of Atonement. Whether we choose God’s standard for behavior or Paul’s or the early disciples, we fall short, and it is appropriate to remember that and be sorry. But it is also vital not to get stuck there, nor to confine others there. Jonah helps us recall that God’s way is to bring mercies beyond expectation through improbable means and unlikely messengers—like you and me.

Advertisements

0 Responses to “For Jan. 22, 2012: 3 Epiphany, Year B”



  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s





%d bloggers like this: