Sunday, 21 January 2018

On repentance

The story of Jonah and Nineveh is always gripping. What disturbed me today was the response or differing response of Jonah and the people of Nineveh.  Jonah is a Jew and his addressed by Yahweh himself. As a Jew he knows all too well the greatness of Yahweh and his commandments.  Knowing all of this he still makes his choice - not to comply.  So he tries to escape, is 'cornered' and then finally relents. 

On the other hand, are the people of Nineveh.  They were not Jews.  They did not know Yahweh, even if they did, it would not be as well as Jonah or the Jews. Yet when a Jew, a prophet not of their god, neither of their country, comes and calls for repentance, they immediately repent. No one, not even the king, questions Jonah's authority or identity.  They resolve to change. 

During the sermon as I reflected on this dichotomy, it occurred to me that there is more to this story than mere repentance at God's command.  Repentance is our responsibility.  God cannot make us repent!  He only brings our attention to it.  So in the case of the Ninevites, they were well aware of their wrongdoings.  They only needs a gentle word-in-the-ear.  It wouldn't have mattered if that reminder came from God or from the devil himself.  They would have repented.  Jonah on the other hand is acting stubborn.  He certainly has the right to.  He could still have been stubborn after the whale vomits him on the shore.  Perhaps he could have been stubborn all his life, denying Yahweh's command to go to Nineveh.  I don't think God would have held it against him.  However, it is interesting that when Jonah agrees to go to Nineveh, he brings about a change in the lifestyle of a whole country!  That's quite a reward for a small act of obedience.  

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