Tuesday: October 30, Jonah 3:1-4:11; Psalm 48; Revelation 11:14-19; Luke 11:27-36
Jonah has learned his lesson; or has he? Initially, it seems so; he heads to Nineveh, that great and wicked city, to proclaim God’s judgment on it: “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” Notice that there is no invitation to repent and be saved, just God’s ultimate destruction of it. The people of Nineveh don’t need an invitation. They believe God, proclaim a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. Even the king sits in sackcloth and ashes, and makes a royal proclamation: all shall turn from their evil ways and the violence in their hands. “Who knows? God may relent and change his mind.” And, of course, that is precisely what God does. But rather than rejoice in this and the success of his prophecy, Jonah falls into a prophetic pout, and even says, “See, I told you so, Lord! That is why I fled to Tarshish. I knew you are gracious and merciful; slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.” That said, Jonah pleads for God to take his life. He simply cannot stand to look upon God’s mercy expressed to others, especially those who have been wantonly evil. Having crossed the city with his proclamation, he leaves town, makes a booth and sits under its shade awaiting God’s response. The Lord causes a large bush or plant to sprout up and provide cover for Jonah, to save him for the heat, something that greatly pleases Jonah. But the next day, God appoints a worm to attach the bush so that it dies. When the sun rises, God sends a sultry east wine and the sun beats down on Jonah so that he is faint and, in his anger, pleads to die. God asks Jonah about his anger over the bush’s destruction; is it right? “Yes,” says Jonah, “angry enough to die!” The Lord reminds Jonah of the huge discrepancy of his ways: angry over a mere bush that he did not created, that came into being in one night and perished in the next, but totally unconcerned, no more—even angry enough to die because the Lord should show mercy to the Ninevites. Herein is a warning for us all: God’s love and mercy are no more limited to those of us who claim to be God’s people, than to the rest of the world, regardless of how pagan. God welcomes any who turn to him. We are not “insiders,” as God’s people but messengers of his love. We can hear that as good news and rejoice in our salvation, or hear it as bad news, and become like Jonah, so pious and heavenly minded that we are no earthly good.
This classic psalm of praise celebrates the Lord’s greatness and presence on Mount Zion, the site of the Temple, and another name for Jerusalem, the city of God and the psalmist’s joy. It is probably a pilgrims psalm: “as we have heard so have we seen,” and remembers God’s presence in the city setting the kings of the earth to panicked flight and smashing them as the east wind drives ships against the rocks of Tarshish. Standing within the temple the pilgrim is struck with a moment of transcendence—this is a “thin place” in life where heaven and earth overlap—and ponders God’s steadfast love, proclaiming that God’s praise reaches the very ends of the earth. Walk about Zion, go all around it. Count its towers, consider its ramparts. Go through its citadels so that you can tell of its greatness to future generations. Most of all, remind them that God is our God forever and ever, and will forever be our guide.
The second woe past and a third still awaited, the seventh angel blows the trumpet and a loud voice from heaven announces: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.” It is not that the kingdom of the world at some time before did not belong to God, but rather a reassertion that, what has always been, is even more the case now. What has always been the case in heaven, and what we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer, is, in fact, reality. The twenty-four elders fall on their faces in worship singing a hymn of divine sovereignty that recalls all that has been said about God’s reign heretofore, while thanks is given to God who “was and is” (“are and were,” in the text) with the “is to come,” delayed for the moment, because the emphasis is on what is taking place in this immediate scene. Remember, the sacred name of God, “I am,” given to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14), can be translated past, present or future tense, and leads to the conception of God as the One who “was, is, and is to be,” and in Revelation, sometimes named “is to come.” This book will play with that image in various configurations throughout its revelation. The emphasis here is on the past and the present. Though the nations have raged against the Lord and his Christ (Psalm 2:5), and continue to do so, God’s wrath has come, which also brings a reward for God’s servants. Judgment comes to those who destroy the earth. The “is to come” is yet to be revealed, but will be. The lesson concludes with the doors of God’s temple in heaven being opened, and lo and behold: there is the Ark of the covenant, which had been lost in the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon in 587 BCE, complete with all of the earthly marks that accompany God’s appearance.
A woman in the crowd expresses her belief in Jesus by blessing the womb that bore him and the breasts that nursed him. Jesus expands that blessing to all who hear the word of God and obey it—the theme that continues through this gospel as a cantus firmus. A new scene portrays Jesus with an even greater crowd that he tells belong to an evil generation who ask for a sign but who will receive none except the sign of Jonah. The church soon understood this as the reference the parallel between Jonah’s three days and nights in the belly of the great fish, and Jesus three days in the tomb. However, the sign of Jonah is greater than that. Jonah is also a sign to Nineveh, that when it hears and sees, acts—it repents. It is one thing to listen to Jesus’ gracious words and take pleasure and comfort in them, and quite another to hear his call to repentance and do something about them in terms of how we order our lives. This is about not only hearing but also obeying. Just as the Queen of Sheba came to hear the wisdom of Solomon and responded to it, so the wisdom of God is in their midst. Will they respond? Something greater than Jonah is here! Luke then includes Jesus’ words about lighting a lamp that also appears in Matthew 5:15 and Mark 4:21: No one hides a source of light. Jesus is that prophetic light; will they let him shine? The complex comment about the eye being the lamp of the body is clearer in Matthew 6:22-23, but here relies on the conviction of Jesus’ day that the eye was the window through which the light of the soul shines forth and is revealed, and allows its light or its darkness to be visible to onlookers. The connection here is to “this evil generation,” whose eyes are not healthy or clear but rather wicked or evil (the world the NRSV translates here “unhealthy” is the same word in verse 29 that it translates “evil”). The saying can function in two ways: does your eye let the light in to illumine and change your life; or, is what shines from your eye the light of God revealed in Christ? Either way, the injunction is to be filled with Christ’s light so completely that we too become lamps shining forth his light, not only to enlighten the darkness, but also to be signs to those in search of light.
Author: The Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson
Created: June 21, 2012
The Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson, Pastor of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, offers thoughts on today’s lectionary readings.