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Fish Stories and God’s Calling…

January 22, 2015


What do the two Lectionary readings for this Sunday (Jonah 3:1-10 and Mark 1:14-20) have in common?  The first thing that came to mind was “fish stories”.  Okay, so that gives you some insight into my sense of humor, now I guess I had better explain that!

Even though the passage we are reading from Jonah concerns his prophecy over Nineveh and the reaction of the king and the people, we have to remember the “rest of the story”.  And the story begins, not with Jonah saying, “Yes, Lord, I’ll do exactly what you want me to do”, but with Jonah running away from the call of God.  He ran away from Amittai to Joppa, somehow believing that he could flee from the presence of the Lord.  And then, after he boarded a ship in Joppa bound for Tarshis, the fun began!  I am sure many of us remember the story from Vacation Bible School or Sunday School about Jonah being caught in the belly of a whale.  Jonah, in an attempt to run away from the call of God, found himself tossed overboard by the ship’s crew since they figured out that God was mad at him and if they tossed him overboard the fierce storm might quiet down.

Jonah tried to run and hide from God and it didn’t work.  When he found himself in the belly of the great fish for three days, he realized there was nothing he could do but turn to God.  In the midst of that pickle, he finally confessed that he had been running away, and asked the Lord to forgive him and restore him.  Note that God did not speak directly to Jonah, but rather spoke to the fish and commanded it to “spew” (literally vomit) Jonah out onto dry land.  So here we have a rather messy Jonah literally tossed up onto dry land.  And when God calls once again to Jonah, do you think Jonah griped, complained or tried to run away?  Nope!  He learned his lesson in the belly of the great fish!  Jonah offered a much different response the second time.  He immediately set out for Nineveh and did exactly what God had asked him to do.  As a result of Jonah’s obedience to God’s call, the people of Nineveh heard the prophecy of destruction and had an opportunity to do something about it.  They had a change of heart and faith, repented, and God did not destroy them.  Instead, God restored their lives.

Change of heart, repentance, forgiveness, and restoration occurred in that story.  And yet we find Jonah getting angry with God and complaining bitterly about how unfair it was that God’s wrath had cooled and God had a change of heart towards Nineveh.  After Jonah’s temper tantrum, and pouting session, God once more brought Jonah back to the basics of life.  You see, Jonah had objected to God’s compassion on Nineveh, and God called Jonah on that objection.

There are two lessons I am focused on from this story.  The first one (which I have personally experienced) is to listen when God calls you.  You may think you can run away from God, but I know for certain that God’s mercy and love will find you.  You can’t run away from God and in all reality, shouldn’t we be thankful that we can never be separated from the love of God (see Paul’s thoughts on that in Romans 8:31-39)?  The second lesson is that God’s mercy and justice are beyond our comprehension.  What Jonah fiercely complained about (Show mercy to those lousy Ninevites, Lord? Really?  I said you were going to destroy them and they deserve it!) was essentially the opposite of what was taught in the Law AND would later be specifically taught by Jesus.  The Law which Jonah knew said to love your neighbor as yourself.  Jesus further clarified that this love includes loving your enemies.

The main difference that I see between the Jonah story and the calling of the four disciples (Simon, Andrew, James & John) is summed up in one word.  That one word is Immediately.  You see, unlike Jonah who hemmed and hawed and tried to run away when God called him, Simon, Andrew, James and John “immediately” left their nets and followed Jesus!  Now their second guessing and questioning would come later, but initially the disciples immediately dropped everything and followed Jesus.  And yet, like Nineveh, they would be forgiven and restored.

Personally, I am thankful that God’s love and mercy are always there for me.  Because, there have been times in my life when I have tried to run away like Jonah.  And in my running away, and sometimes even in my angry lashing out at God, I was never once abandoned!  There have been plenty of times in my own life where I could easily deserve the fate that was proscribed for Nineveh.  Yet God has always been merciful and forgiving towards me.  And even though I have had to pay the consequences of some bad decisions made or things done, God has always restored me!

My hope is that I will always immediately follow as Christ leads without question or hesitation.  However, knowing me, that will not always be the case.  Yet even in that case where I stumble and fall, I lift up a prayer of thanksgiving that God doesn’t give up on me and Christ the Good Shepherd will find me and lead me back to the fold as in the parable of the Good Shepherd who brought the lost lamb safely back into the fold.

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