15 after Trinity

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Readings:

Jonah 3.10 – 4.11
Philippians 1.21-30
Matthew 20.1-16

Semon:

Hello, I’m Adam Hadley the Curate at St Thomas’ Church in Stourbridge.

For today’s podcast I’m focussing on the old testament lesson from the book of the Prophet Jonah. Before I look at the specific reading though I just want to offer a few thoughts on the book as a whole.

Jonah is one of my favourite books of the Bible and is too easily glossed over as a nice Sunday School story to tell children. And the great fish often takes the lime light and detracts from a really deep book which speaks into the human condition, our relationship with all peoples in God’s creation and our understanding of God and our discipleship which flows from that understanding.

The book is like a false summit on a walk. You think you’ve got to the top only to realise there’s still a mountain to climb beyond it. Jonah is only four chapters long and I really commend that in the coming week you take some time to read it and understand the profound message it still holds for us today.

In this final section of the Book of Jonah, which is today’s reading, we find Jonah at the end of his journey where, after running away from God, he finally relents and visits the great city of Ninevah where he is instrumental in what can only be described as the biggest mass conversion in the Bible which even included the animals converting, which raises some interesting questions about animal theology and the inclusion of animals in God’s great plan of salvation. Sadly, there isn’t time for me to explore this with you today but would make for some fascinating theological research if you were so minded.

And after this mass conversion and the people of Ninevah turning away from their evil ways, God changes his mind and does not bring upon the people of Ninevah the calamity he had previously said he would. In other words, he forgave them. God’s grace and forgiveness is so vast that it is able to forgive even the most evil of ways when they seek repentance. But instead of rejoicing in God’s forgiveness Jonah has a strop and finally reveals why he ran away from God’s command to visit Ninevah and convert its people. He ran away because he knew that God would forgive them, and he didn’t want this. He didn’t want them to have the opportunity to seek forgiveness and then receive it. He wanted them excluded from God’s salvation plan and to only receive punishment and retribution.

This revelation strikes to the heart of the message contained within the book of Jonah because it makes us question deeply whether we think there should be a limit on God’s forgiveness and grace. And this question is critical to our understanding of God and hence, our understanding of discipleship, because there is no limit on God’s forgiveness and grace when people seek it and sometimes this is a hard truth to swallow.

I can’t record this podcast and suggest I find the complete abundance of God’s forgiveness and grace easy because like Jonah felt, it sometimes just feels unfair. However, it’s a truth we all need to wrestle with and build into our understanding of God and therefore how we respond to the others of God’s people.

And Jonah’s strop with God also allows us some insight into another issue which often arises in us which is that so often we want to make God in our own image. We want God to have our prejudices and limits and concerns. We want God to be on our side and not on the side of those we do not like or those people who are different from us. But guess what – the lesson Jonah found out when God forgave Ninevah is that God will not be made in our image, instead we need to work on making ourselves and forming our lives much more in the image of God.

Only by understanding God’s ‘abounding in steadfast love’ and working day by day to both accept and share this love with all of God’s creation will we be transformed more and more into the image of God.

In a world where division is championed, this message of God to Jonah echoing down the centuries is more important than ever. We are all children of God and as one theologian, when writing about Jonah, said ‘like Jonah, we all need to remember that we’re all in the same boat and are all able to be recipients of God’s grace’.

Amen

Questions for reflection:

  1. How have you tried to make God in your image rather than learning about what God’s image is and being transformed to be more like him?
  2. How do you respond to God’s mercy and forgiveness being limitless?

 


Page last updated: 15th September 2020 9:44 AM
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