Scripture for the week: Jonah 3,1-5,10; Psalm 62.5-12; Hebrews 9.24-28; Mark 1.14-20
The story of Jonah is about God’s kindness and compassion, and willingness to give humanity second chances. It is a theme manifest also throughout the Hebrew Scriptures – an antidote to the stark portrayal of God as angry, vengeful and punishing – starting with the incident in which God makes ‘coats for their backs’ when Adam and Eve are expelled from Eden. It reaches its climax in the ultimate act of kindness, which is to allow Jesus to take the full force of human nastiness, and then, instead of imposing retribution, allowing it to stand as a monument to what happens when humans go bad – and what can happen when they go right.
Jonah, of course, was mightily ticked off by God’s compassion, and went off to sulk. Which just goes to show how narrowly defined human concepts of justice can be.
Meanwhile, we read of the recruitment of disciples by Jesus – fishermen who are fished from the sea of humanity and transformed into those whose destiny is to fish for others to join them and be similarly transformed.
We read these scriptures on a day when our attention is diverted towards remembrance of other examples of human nastiness and misplaced ideas of justice.
Where do we turn? Towards more retribution, in which we repeat the pattern of sending other people’s children to place their lives at risk?
Where do we turn in an era where we can play war like a horrible, distorted video game, played out with bombers and drones – and civilian lives, which we relabel “collateral damage,” where do we look for hope?
Where de we find compassion? Where do we find love?
In The Wounded Healer, the writer and theologian Henri Nouwen wrote, “Experience tells us that we can only love because we are born out of love, that we can only give because our life is a gift, and that we can only make others free because we are set free by Him whose heart is greater than ours. When we have found the anchor places for our lives in our own centre, we can be free to let others enter into the space created for them and allow them to dance their own dance, sing their own song and speak their own language without fear.”
This is why our forbears placed their lives at risk – some to be lost, some to be damaged – so that we might create a place of freedom for ourselves and others to be ourselves, different, and unafraid of our differences, to give to others as we have received, and to deal with one another out of compassion and caring, as God has cared for us, or if you want to name it, out of love.
We are invited to be disciples, first to be subjects of transformation, and then to be agents of transformation, fishermen fished to become fishers, agents of God’s compassion and caring and second chances.
Not, incidentally, that this will be a secure or safe way to go. Look at what happened to those first disciples. Look at what happened to their Christ.
Still, it seems better for humanity to be such disciples than to be grumpy Jonah, watching morbidly for the firework show of the destruction of Nineveh and its latter-day analogies. That simply takes us back to the poppy fields of Flanders and the video-game destruction of civilian life in the twenty-first century.
If we want peace, we have to be agents of justice and love, following Christ’s example.