Summary: We hear two fishing stories. They're not so much about the men who caught fish as they are about fishing expeditions that caught men.
January 24, 2021
Hope Lutheran Church
Rev. Mary Erickson
Friends, may grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and Christ Jesus our Lord.
Today we hear two fish stories. They’re not so much about the men who caught fish as they are about fishing expeditions that caught men.
Both accounts are call stories. God is calling these individuals to follow God’s lead. In one of the stories, the men gladly follow. The man in the other story wants nothing to do with it. But he’s pursued by God’s grace, and God makes him an offer he can’t refuse.
Jonah. God called Jonah to deliver a message to the people of Nineveh. Jonah was to bid them to repent and turn to the Lord. But Jonah wanted nothing to do with God asked of him.
Jonah loathed the Ninevites. He hated them with a perfect hate. Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrian empire. Yes, that same Assyrian empire that had overthrown the northern kingdom of Israel. The Assyrians had stormed the land promised to the descendants of Abraham. They had toppled their cities and hauled off its people, Jonah’s neighbors and kinfolk, into slavery.
And these are the people that God wants Jonah to preach to! Jonah wants no part of it. He hates the Assyrians. He hates Nineveh. The last thing he wants to do is preach to them. He wants God to smite them, not save them!
So Jonah heads in the opposite direction from Nineveh. Instead of going east, he heads west. And when he reaches the seashore, he hops on a ship headed even further west.
But God won’t take no for an answer. Jonah is God’s man! So God calls up a great wind. The ship Jonah is aboard is in peril of breaking up. When the crew casts lots to see who has offended a god, the lots fall on Jonah. He confesses that he’s running away from Israel’s God.
So they toss him over the side of the boat. And God appoints a fish. It’s a big fish, a really, really big fish. This fish is God’s grace in action. It’s going to save Jonah from drowning. The fish swallows him up. And there Jonah lives, in the belly of the beast.*
The fish carries Jonah for three days and then spits him up on dry land. Then God repeats the call to Jonah. “Go!” Jonah realizes there’s no avoiding it. Reluctantly, he heads to Nineveh. He utters the call to repentance one lousy time. And unbelievably, the entire city repents! They turn from their evil ways.
After he begrudgingly voiced this message from God, Jonah heads to a spot outside of the city. He wants to see God’s destruction rain down on the people he hates so much. But the destruction never comes. Jonah realizes what must have happened: the Ninevites repented and God had mercy on them.
Now he’s hopping mad. “I knew it, God!” he cries. “That’s why I didn’t want to come here. I knew you are a gracious God – you’re slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”
Jonah didn’t want his enemies spared; he wanted them destroyed. That’s why he ran away in the first place. He didn’t want to give the Ninevites a chance at redemption.
But Jonah was God’s man. He couldn’t run from it. God kept on pursuing Jonah to turn him around. God is adamant that Jonah will be God’s mouthpiece.
Could it be that Jonah needed saving every bit as much as the Assyrians? The fish wasn’t the only thing consuming Jonah. The fish was eating him from the outside, but his hatred was consuming him from the inside.
Sometimes anger is all you’ve got. Anger can feel pretty righteous. If you feel wronged, if you feel like you’ve been used and abused, that righteous anger can feel awfully good! And letting it go means you’re left with nothing at all.
Buddha said, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you’re the one who gets burned.” Righteous anger is not our friend. It’s a poison. It destroys us, just like it was eating up Jonah.
We can learn a lesson from Jonah. Our nation has been eaten up by polarization. We’ve divided ourselves into camps. Red and blue. Rural and urban. Mask wearers and anti-maskers. We’ve circled the wagons and declared sides. And in doing so, we’ve overlooked the most important thing. We’ve ceased to see the humanity of our neighbor.
Jonah is a story of repentance. Jonah needs to repent as much as the Ninevites. He needs to soften his heart. He needs to free himself from the inner rage destroying him.