This Sunday’s lections set Jonah’s prophecy and Jesus’ proclamation next to each other. These two figures appear to people whose lives are situated in very different places. Jesus calls people who work on the water, fishing. Jonah calls to the people of Nineveh, the powerful and ancient center of the warring Assyrian empire.
The pronouncement may seem different to each group, but the outcome is the same; the people change their life focus as described below by Pastor Waldrop in the 2008 commentary from Homily Service.
This is a Sunday to examine foundations. To what do we cling? What are we able to hold loosely? Where is our rock and salvation? Are we ready to follow, even if we don’t much like where God takes us . . . or whom God brings along to join us on the journey?
– Denise Thorpe
Jesus's first sermon holds a multitude of fresh images and strong teaching. Note that like all the rest of the Gospels, Jesus's ministry begins with John the Baptizer—Jesus and John are intertwined in the minds of the evangelists. Note too that Jesus points to the kingdom of God that has come near.
Have you ever thought of repent as meaning, “change the way you see things,” “change your perspective"? Before one changes behavior, a change of perspective is often required. We treat people or things or situations in precisely the way we see them.
In the Seven Habits of Highly Successful People . . . Stephen Covey uses “change your paradigm” to describe this necessary beginning of successful living. If to repent means to see things differently, then repentance consists of those actions that show we see things differently; we see things as God gives us to see and act accordingly when we rightly repent!
– H. Gregory Waldrop
Jesus invites us: Follow me. Learn from me how to live. Learn from me what the love of God looks like in the flesh.
Follow me, and the work of your life will be about the rule of God as well. Follow me, not so that you can be come a ‘‘religious’’ person, but so that you can become a real person, one who is alive to the presence of God in this world, learning to embody the love of God in the way Jesus did.
Jesus is calling us to be disciples—people who are learning from him how to live. What sort of life would Jesus live if he were . . . a forestry manager? A health care worker? A technical writer?
With Jesus, we aren’t on our guard against identity theft. We open our hearts to identity gift! In baptism, we have received from Jesus a new identity—we are God’s beloved daughters and sons. Now we are following him, because he’s the one who can teach us what it means to live that way—to live as God’s beloved daughters and sons! It doesn’t mean that we’re perfect.
– Aaron J. Couch
Given the brevity of the entire story of Jonah, this is a good time to encourage people to go home and read the whole thing. Then the complexity of God’s command that, at first, drove Jonah to Tarshish instead of Nineveh, then threw him into the sea, then launched him out on dry land, and finally sent him to do his calling would make even more profound the statement in vs. 10 that God had a change of intention. God would not destroy the Ninevites –– because they did listen. They repented. They changed their ways.
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
And perhaps the crux of these texts comes down to what Paul asserts to a troubled church.
It is striking that Paul’s letter to the Corinthians tells them to hold loosely to what many of us would define as the essential fabric of social order and proper conduct: marital relationship, mourning rituals, celebrations, control of property (1 Cor. 7:29–31). Part of what needs to ‘‘pass away’’ may be our self-assurance that we have a handle on God’s understanding of right and wrong. That is why the Nineveh story is so wonderful. Jonah spoke and, by golly, Nineveh responded in a way that God recognized and blessed. Jonah was none too happy about it.
– Denise Thorpe
The preacher’s quandary might be to ponder what it was that caused such a huge turnabout for these people. What made the Ninevites believe Jonah’s words? We might think of it as a terrorist group in our time deciding one day to become Quakers. What caused Simon, Andrew, James, and John to drop their nets? What makes us believe in the word of God?
Denise Thorpe is a Presbyterian pastor (PCUSA) who served a church in Raleigh, North Carolina, for eight years. She is currently a ThD candidate at Duke Divinity School.
H. Gregory Waldrop is an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church and serves as pastor at Fountain Avenue United Methodist Church in Paducah, Kentucky.
Aaron J. Couch is co-pastor of First Immanuel Lutheran Church in Portland, Oregon.
Homily Service 42, no. 1 (2008): 107-115.