Tuesday of Epiphany III – Jonah 3:1-5, 10

Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.

When Danny Duchene was 16, he received word that that his parents had both been arrested trying to smuggle drugs from Peru to the US. This initiated a spiral of his own alcohol and drug abuse that abruptly ended two years later, in prison, facing a double murder charge. It was in prison that he woke up to what he had done, took ownership of it, repented, and pled guilty to his crime. God was in that prison with Danny and brought Christian people to his side. Eventually he was ministering to his fellow inmates. After serving 32 years inside prison Danny is back inside prison, but this time as a pastor doing for others what Christ through Christians did for him.

"Jonah and the Whale" by Pieter Lastman, 1621 This passage from Jonah tells us that the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time. We are probably familiar with how that first time worked out. Jonah had run away, been cast into the sea, swallowed by a giant fish, and prayed for deliverance. After three days the fish spit him up on the beach. I can see Jonah lying on the beach, covered in seaweed and other gunk, gasping for breath. He looks up and who does he see? It is the same Word of the Lord (Is that Jesus?) who had come to him before. The Word smiles at him and gives the same command as before – go to Nineveh. Was He making breakfast with fish and bread as He did when he gave the disciples a second chance after they had all fled when He had been on trial? Did he hand poor Jonah the first millennium BC version of Fodor’s “Nineveh for Tourists”?

I have included a wonderful image by Pieter Lastman in 1621. (Apparently Jonah not only prayed but also did some strength conditioning while in the belly of the fish!)

A once-failed, second-chance prophet was sent to a wicked, sinful city to give its people a second chance. We look around the world today and see much of it going to what we can only describe as hell. Too often we must admit that the Christians have failed to be good witnesses to God’s love. Those who scorn the Christian message often speak a brutal truth about us. We have often failed. But God came again to rebellious Jonah and set him back on his feet and pointed him once more to Nineveh. That same God comes to people today, people who have not gotten it right, and he points us to the lives of witness and love to which he has called us. We can own our failures, repent of them but not let them unduly bother us. God is a second-chance God.

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