September 24, 2017
Pentecost 16 A
I wonder what Jonah was like as a child? I am willing to bet he was a pretty good kid, that he obeyed his parents, that he was a good and loyal citizen of his nation, and that he was active in his faith community. I think so because he grew up to be a prophet, because he knows his political and religious history, because he is acquainted with the scriptures, and because, (despite all the things I just mentioned,) he seems to know the ultimate nature of God.
So it is that when Jonah is called to go and call the Ninevites to repentance he tries to avoid the mission, and when forced to do it, he becomes angry. You see the Israelites did not like the people of Nineveh. Nineveh was most likely originally a Babylonian city that was rebuilt by the Assyrians. And the Assyrians were responsible for a number of Israel’s greatest disasters. In the seventh and eighth centuries they invaded Palestine time and time again and in 721BC the Northern Kingdom of Israel was completely destroyed, literally wiped off the map, as a result of an Assyrian conquest. Thus the people of Nineveh were not liked by the Israelites.
Eighteenth century writer Jonathan Swift once penned these timeless words, “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.” Perhaps that is the story of Jonah, perhaps that was just the way he was brought up, to love God, family, and country, and to hate his enemies. He was probably what we’d call – a good kid.
We are your children, we make war like you
We take no prisoners, we’ve learned each lesson true
We are your children, the light in your eyes
We are the ones who are lost, in the deep, of the dark, all alone in the night
We are your children, we make love like you
We never touch, we never feel what we do
We are your children, the ghost in your head
We are the ones who are haunting the streets, of your past, giving life to your dead
We sit alone and we cry
We sit alone and we cry
All alone, we cry, we cry
We are your children, we believe like you do
We never change, we’ve nothing to do
We are your children the tears you won’t cry
We are the ones who are screaming like people who know they are destined to die
Jonah begrudgingly goes to Nineveh, he calls on the Ninevites to repent, and they repent, and Jonah who only has “enough religion to hate” is furious. He cries out to God, “O Lord! is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” Jonah would rather die than forgive, he’d rather die than love a Ninevite, he’d rather die than even tolerate the existence of the Ninevites!
In this world of ever increasing religious violence, religious violence enthusiastically practiced by the extremes of all sides, and too often practiced silently or ignored by the mainstreams, we must ask ourselves if we were raised on religion or faith; hate hidden in legalism and fear, or love practiced in grace, mercy, and forgiveness.
And more importantly how will we raise our children?
May we all be filled, not just with religion, but also with faith!
Enough faith ….
to let go of the past,
to break cycles of violence,
to tear down the walls of human pride and arrogance.
May we be filled with enough faith …
to practice forgiveness,
to love one another,
to establish peace and justice,
to create a future filled with hope. Amen.
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