Our church is getting saturated with the story of Jonah this Lenten season. The Wednesday series features several of our lay people speaking on various parts of this Old Testament book. I preached about Jonah on Sunday, and our children’s Sunday School is looking at the stories. Truth be told, most of us start and stop with the story of the whale that swallowed the reluctant prophet. It’s time for all of us to see what God’s Word has for us in the four short chapters of the book. The emphasis on repentance is very appropriate for the season of Lent, and needs to be learned and practiced by every one of us.
We probably aren’t as nasty as the Ninevites, but our sins do need to be acknowledged and forgiven. Jonah hated the Ninevites -- with good reason. He also knew how gracious God was, and the last thing he wanted to do was share that good news of grace with the wicked people of that great city. He knew that they would repent, and then God would not destroy them. Jonah was ready for fire and brimstone to wipe them out.
I wonder if there might be some Ninevites in your life? Are there people you just can’t stand? Are you ready to write off individuals who have hurt you? Are you ready for somebody who is particularly troublesome to drop dead? Well, maybe not literally, but you certainly would like to see a little punishment come along and cause some well deserved suffering. The last thing you want is for them to have good things happen in their life, especially if those good things come from a forgiving God.
Let’s face it -- either these feelings are pretty common, or there is something really wrong with me. I have nursed feelings of resentment from time to time, and can really identify with Jonah. I even know what it’s like to sense God leading me in one direction and then deliberately turn and go off on another tangent entirely. I suspect some of you also have that experience.
If we don’t get anything else from the story of Jonah’s life, let’s get it into our minds that God loves everybody -- even the Ninevites. He loves the people we hate. God loves even his enemies. Goes does that because that is the very heart of his personality. God is love. Think about that the next time you find yourself putting folks down, loathing them because they really hurt you, dismissing them because they are dumb enough to campaign for the wrong candidate, snubbing them because you are naturally superior.
When we are angry, when we hold resentments, when we vow to get even, we are not reflecting the image of our Savior. Instead we look like the devil! Worse even, our reluctance to repent and get right with God (and those Ninevites we know) opens the way for Satan to cripple us by tarnishing us with evil. Instead, let’s bow before God in life changing repentance, and begin to discover a love that is beyond us. Some of our Ninevites just might become our neighbors when we get to heave, and our new best friends here on earth.