Whenever we get to eat at a nearby diner where we sit at the counter, the winter time question we ask of one of the regulars is, “How’s fishing?”
His sport is ice fishing on the frozen Lake Ontelaunee reservoir that supplies the water for the city of Reading.
His most recent answer was, “Great! The ice was 8 inches think and I caught a 24-inch Pickerel. An amazing catch! “
For Jonah, it wasn’t he who caught a fish, but a whale-of-a-size fish that caught him. But Jonah’s caustic hatred for the city of Nineveh where God ordered him to go, brought on an attack of acid re-flux that caused the fish to regurgitate Jonah onto the shore. The big fish couldn’t stomach him!
Rev. Dr. William Carl III, who until he retired last year, was President of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, gave a sermon that was a quick lesson on the geography and history Jonah would have known about Nineveh
on the east bank of the Tigris River in Assyria.
“The Assyrians were not too popular in Israel because in the eighth and seventh centuries B.C., they plundered Palestine looting and burning its cities and deporting its inhabitants. In 722-721 B.C., the Northern Kingdom of Israel passed out of existence as a result of Assyrian conquest. In other words, to the hearers of the Jonah story, Nineveh was anathema, the object of intense hostility. For perspective, imagine an African-American being asked to go preach to the Ku Klux Klan.” (And we might add: “Go to an ISIS-held village and preach about Jesus!”)
‘Go to Nineveh,’ says God. And Jonah says, ‘Anywhere, Lord, anywhere but Nineveh.’ So, Jonah stands on the dock with tickets for Tarshish.” (Adapted, Day1, “Tickets for Tarshish,” November 9, 2008)
Even nature reacted to Jonah’s hatred for the people of Nineveh.
A violent storm, threatened the life of all onboard the boat bound for Tarshish, so violent that it forced Jonah to confess, he was the cause, and demanded the sailors toss him into the sea.
The storm ended, the sailors offered a sacrifice to Jonah’s God, and God provided a fish to pick up Jonah.
Today, pause and see the real Jonah and not the lead figure, along with the fish, played by children in Bible School and Sunday School, where it is turned into songs and handcraft.
See Jonah as a supreme model for the human capacity to hate; see hatred we can trace back to the holocaust, the KKK, ISIS atrocities, Hatred that is like acid that eats away at us and everyone one around us, like the caustic resentment that brought on the acid re-flux that caused the fish to belch up Jonah.
When Jonah gave in and went to preach of God’s impending doom, the Ninevites repented, from the least to the king, and all the animals, Everyone fasted and put on sackcloth and ashes, and cried to God, confessing and vowing to turn away from their evil ways and their violence; and God changed his mind and spared them.
But their repentance and God’s pardon had no effect on Jonah. He went and sat under a sheltering bush, and looked down on the city, still expecting some calamity to happen. His unremitting hatred was even too much for nature, a worm nibbled away at the bush and then the burning sun consumed Jonah’s comfortable shelter,
only to cause him to become angrier, enough to let his anger kill him.
God had had it by then and chided him for worrying about a short-lived bush, while feeling nothing for “Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals.”
Feel the heat of Jonah’s acidic and fiery anger which is still lingering among us today, and ask,
“What does it take to leave the company of Jonah?”
Hold on to that question as we move on to today’s Gospel, where, in a picturesque scene a village of families
were going about their business of commercial fishing on the Sea of Galilee…
until Jesus called out to two fishermen brothers, Simon and Andrew, who were casting their nets into the sea, and later, to two more brothers, James and John, who were mending their nets while in the boat,
“Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”
It’s a “fish story” that, like Jonah, has them hearing God-in-Christ, but responding, as the Gospel tells the story:
Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
into their Nineveh and all the other places they would go with Jesus, on to His cross and His empty tomb.
And, in following Him, they left the company of Jonah as they let Jesus first catch them, which has us asking,
“Have I let myself be caught in that net, and am I making it my ministry to cast that net today?”
Melissa Bane Sevier raises the question,
“But what about those who were left behind? What about Zebedee and the hired workers? What about all the others who heard Jesus but weren’t called to this life on the road?
Do we hear Jesus’ “Follow me” as His call to serve God …where we are?
And when asking,
“But is it worth it?” “What can we do from home?”
Do we see who is being gathered in the cast net of Jesus’ forgiveness and love and compassion?’
Melissa Bane Sevier names the “fish net” catch of – “the outcast, the sick, the poor among us, our friends and family and among strangers, as we allow our own faith and assumptions to be upended by new ideas and new experiences, as we tread lightly on the earth.”
Melissa asks, “Can we do all this from home? You bet.
But we do it best when we allow ourselves to journey with Jesus, even if we don’t leave town.”
When our family moved to a Philadelphia suburb, we attended a a church where I was caught up in enthusiastically singing the Gospel song:
“I’ll go where you want we to go, dear Lord,
Over mountain or plain or sea;
I’ll say what you want me to say, dear Lord;
I’ll be what you want me to be.”
And I determined my answer to Jesus’ “Follow me!” would mean getting the education to quality to go as a medical missionary to India.
But in the last year at Ursinus, with an acceptance at med school in hand, I began to have what St. John of the Cross called “a dark night of the soul,” and in that agonizing time confessed that I had not let God into my plans.
It was then that I learned there was another version to that Gospel song:
“I’ll stay where you want me to stay, dear Lord.”
and following Jesus took a turn that has not had me going “over mountain or plain or sea,” but staying at-home, casting the net woven by Jesus,
And when asked, “Is it worth it?” lift up the Apostle Paul’s words as the answer,
“I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
and pray the words of another Gospel song:
Living for Jesus a life that is true,
Striving to please Him in all that I do;
Yielding allegiance, glad-hearted and free,
This is the pathway of blessing for me.
I own no other Master,
My heart shall be Thy throne,
My life I give, henceforth to live,
O Christ, for Thee alone. (Thomas O. Chisholm)
The song to sing as each of us answers Jesus’ call, “Follow me!”
casting the net of His life, “journey with Jesus even if we don’t leave home and town.”