Summary: The obedience of Jonah, Peter, James and John is a model for our own obedience to the Lord
“Just do it! Just do it”! So goes the Nike sneaker company. Speaking of sneakers and being sneaky, that company wants one thing: “Just do it” -buy their shoes. They take a phrase that usually goes with giving into temptation. When you are on a diet and faced with a lovely array of deserts such as we had at our wonderful roast beef dinner last night, as Ollie and Marion Smith’s lovely granddaughters went among the tables, wasn’t there a voice inside you that whispered: “Just do it?!”
This morning, however, I want to give a different spin to this phrase. It has a clear connection with obedience to the Lord, as in the case of Jonah. Today’s first reading is the rather dull description of Jonah’s preaching going down the “Landis Avenue” of Nineveh. Imagine: three days to walk it-now that’s a big city! But the more interesting parts of the tiny book of Jonah are the story of the whale and Jonah’s complaining to the Lord. It’s a small book-only four little chapters; the whole book covers only two pages of your Bible. Read it to your children as a bedtime story. Three days inside the belly of a whale-I wonder what Jonah smelled like!
Let’s take a look at the first few verses of chapter 4 which follow immediately after the first reading.
But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, "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 just didn’t like God loving so much. Now let’s get the picture. Jonah did what he was told, but he wasn’t into it. He was caught in the net of his own prejudices. He just did it-God’s will-but no enthusiasm, just rote obedience. (Said with a crass tone of voice…) “Ok, everybody, repent, will ya? I’m supposed to tell you to repent, so, here goes: “Repent!” Remember the boring vacuum cleaner salesman of the sermon some weeks ago? (Crass voice again…) “You don’t really want this vacuum cleaner, do you, lady? But I’m supposed to sell vacuum cleaners. I’m supposed to just do it.” We’d be very surprised if vacuum clearers were sold that way. But that’s what happened in Nineveh. The King got the message and sent out a proclamation that everyone side around in sackcloth and ashes. Listen: if you haven’t tried it, don’t knock it! They just did it: they repented! The bottom line for Jonah and for the people of Nineveh, is they “Just did it”! God’s love got enmeshed in the loveless Jonah, just by his obedience.
The connection between the first reading and the Gospel is obvious: the call to repentance. The setting is quite different-some fish, but no whales. Unlike Jonah, John the Baptist and Jesus are totally involved in their call. But more important than their just doing it, was God’s decision to “Just do it”: to save us even when we were not into it. I’m glad God was into it!
Repent! Repent! What does this word mean? We usually connect it to “Stop being bad and start being good.” Yes, it means that, but it means much more. The word means “to turn in the opposite direction.” It means doing a “180” with attitudes and behaviors. That’s what Jonah had to do. He was told to go east-he went west. Up comes the whale, eats Jonah, and then turns himself and Jonah back west again. When God wants you to do something, the first turnings in the opposite direction are going to mean that something is going to happen-perhaps not as great as being eaten by a whale-but something is going to happen to get you to go in the direction that God wants for you and what is best for you.
So repent means to turn around and go in the opposite direction in obedience to God’s will. Repentance is a turning. The root meaning of the word for verse is a “turning.” The uni-verse is the one great created reality that is turning.
My mother’s only sibling is still living, at age 92. Mom died forty years ago this summer. For many years, Aunt Gertrude has faithfully kept up a subscription to National Geographic for us. The February, 2003 issue has a beautiful article entitled: “Discovering the First Galaxies.” (See http://nationalgeographic. The image projected is also found at http://groups.msn.com/WesleyWithoutWalls in the album “Slices of Life.”) The first image from the Hubble telescope is of two galaxies colliding in their gravitational fields. The tail is 280,000 light years long-three times the length of the Milky Way. The next image is another spectacular close-up of young stars wheeling about the center of another galaxy. (The image projected is found in “Slices of Life.”) There is a turning like a pinwheel.