Summary: For our God of compassion - no one is beyond the pale - not even in Ninevah
No one is too bad for the Love of God
In February, 1891, the "Star of the East", a whaling ship from Liverpool, England was hunting whales in the South Atlantic near the Falkland Islands.
A whale was sighted and two boats sent to kill it.
The first boat successfully harpooned the whale, but it swam away, dragging the boat with it.
Later, the harpooner in the accompanying boat also succeeded in harpooning the whale.
Both boats were towed about three miles by the whale, before it "sounded" or went below the surface. It then came back up to the surface and in its death throes, capsized one of the whaling boats.
All but two crew members were rescued by the other boat.
A few hours later, the now dead whale was lashed to the side of the ship and the crew began the task of cutting it up.
When they came to the stomach, they hoisted it onto the deck and were shocked to see something moving around inside.
They quickly cut the stomach open and found one of the missing sailors, 35 year old James Bartley, inside alive, but unconscious.
He was soon revived, but for two weeks was delirious. By the end of the third week he had recovered sufficiently to go about his duties again.
Sir Francis Fox wrote of Bartley :
His skin -where it was exposed to the action of the gastric juice - . . . face, neck and hands were bleached to a deadly whiteness and took on the appearance of parchment . . . (and) never recovered its natural appearance . . . (though otherwise) his health did not seem affected by his terrible experience. (http://www.grmi.org/renewal/Richard_Riss/evidences/8jonah.html)
Is this story a modern day story of Jonah – or as some people think - a seaman’s yarn? I leave you to judge.
Jonah was one of the Old Testament readings in the Lectioanry this week. As I thought and prayed about the passage, it seemed to me that the book of Jonah has a lot of similarities with the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant that I preached on last Sunday.
You may recall that the two key points from the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant were
1. that forgiveness goes to the heart of the Gospel – and
2. as we have been forgiven so much by God, so Jesus calls us – as his disciples to have a similar compassion - to that which God has to us - towards others.
For me the story of Jonah teaches us two important things
1. Firstly that no one is too bad for the grace of God and
2. Secondly God wants us to have the same compassion for others as he has had for us.
Some commentators think the book of Jonah is a parable or an allegory - but I think that there may be evidence for the story being historical.
1. Firstly, because we do find a reference to the Prophet Jonah the son of Amittai in one of the historical books of the OT, where it says:
“25 He (Jereboam the Second) was the one who restored the boundaries of Israel from Lebo Hamath to the Sea of the Arabah, in accordance with the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, spoken through his servant Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath Hepher. (2 Kings 15:25)
And if we are talking about the same Jonah, this might give us a clue to Jonah’s antipathy to the city of Ninevah – the capital city of Israel’s great enemy of that era – the Assyrians.
2. The second reason that I think the story may be historical rather than allegorical is because Jesus himself vouches for the authenticity of the story of Jonah – as we heard in our Gospel reading this morning.
3. The third and perhaps more tenuous reason is that Ninevah was a city where there was a lot of idol worship and recently an obelisk was found recording a king who changed from worshipping many gods to one God.
Is he possibly the same king of Ninevah who repented at Jonah’s preaching?
The Book of Jonah
Let’s review the story:
Scene 1: The book opens with God giving Jonah a calling: To go and preach against the evil in Ninevah.
Ninevah was called by the prophet Nahum “that bloody city” (Nahum 3:1). – and he wasn’t swearing!!
It wasn’t called “that bloody city” just because of the wars it started but also for its cruelty to its captives.
Story: For example, one of their kings (Ash- urna - sirpal) made a habit of cutting off the hands, feet, noses and the ears of his captives and also put out their eyes and raised mounds of human heads.