A Lesson From Jonah

Liz Hamilton addresses City Women at a breakfast at Rangeville Community Church, Toowoomba on Saturday 13th April 2013. It follows the personal testimony of guest speaker, Kim Den Hertog, plus a panel of women with an account of why they do what they do in Christian service.

Jonah (like us, though he was male) would have been an ordinary middle class citizen sitting in the pews each week. We can assume that he probably had a pretty good job, a nice family and attended all the meetings.

Jonah 1:3 “Go to the great city of Nineveh!”

It is clear that Jonah had an understanding of what the city was like, the job in Nineveh and the ridiculous impossibility of it. Nineveh, God. Why me? What have I got to offer? They will not take me seriously, they won’t listen to me. Don’t you know that my past or my current anxieties or priorities disqualify me?

Nineveh, the kind of city that no matter how good the council or the mayor is – they will never bring about change! Where those rich bums get away with their lifestyles? How those yuppies just focus on the next best thing? And those sexually abused, doped up and dole-dependent ones are merely a product of their own bad, dumb decisions.

Besides, I like what I have here. Why should I give more?  I have been a very good faithful church attendee. I have done crèche, mothers’ groups, youth, dishes and pottery in the name of Jesus.

So Jonah ran literally to the ends of the earth. He ran. He ran. He ran. He was afraid to go. He wanted another job to do. Yet he could not hide. Do you want to know the distance that he ran? 9198km, the distance between Nazareth and Joppa where he caught the boat. Even there,  God was using Jonah to reveal more of Himself to a boat load of everyday community people.

Then the storm hits.

So begins the biggest orchestration anyone could pull off. A small small boat in a big big ocean, the man Jonah gets thrown overboard and a big big fish runs into him and swallows him. The chances of this occurring – well, I would love to see Tom Waterhouse’s odds on this one.

What insight can we gain from this text?  3 out of the 4 chapters of Jonah speak more about Jonah’s rescue than the rescue of the city, Nineveh. Why did Jonah run? Why do we run from the opportunity at hand? Because we are happy with the way things are. It is comfortable! There is behavior that we don’t want to let go. Perhaps we, like Jonah, cling to our patterns of familiarity or people pleasing activities?  Maybe we don’t want our homes to get out of hand. Our excuse may be as legitimate as a new job 9198km away. Perhaps we like the one off mission trip because it is convenient, fun and an adventure – but call me to missions long-term? Yeah… no.

Some commentators would say that Jonah was used by God to bring judgement to Nineveh. However, the more I look at it – from my limited theological background – Nineveh was used as a tool to confront the individual believer, and to reveal the great mercy and love that God has for a city. He didn’t end up wiping Nineveh out. And this upset Jonah.

Jonah 4:10 – Then the Lord said, “You feel sorry for yourself when your shelter is destroyed though you did no work to put it there, and it is at best, short lived.  Should I not feel sorry for a great city like Nineveh with its 120, 000 people and their shelter?”

The book of Jonah is a wonderful assurance that the job He has given us to do will not only bring about change and make our city a better place, but that there is a big big God whose unchangeable grace, provision and plan will also rescue us and redeem us. This is the story of all those sitting on the panel.  This is the story of many of you who have died to self. This is the City Women story. We are not Nineveh, we are Toowoomba – God has given us a job to do. Let’s go!

Liz Hamilton