Jonah 3:1–4:11 (NRSV)
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.
When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.”
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.
The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”
But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about 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?”
Jesus proclaimed, “The kingdom of God has come near; repent!” (Mark 1:14-15)
Jesus linked the nearness of the Kingdom of God with the call to “repent,” a word that seems heavy with regret, remorse, and shame. It’s like a swamp, where your feet get stuck and you can’t move. So I was delighted to discover that the Greek word we translate as “repent” actually means “to change.” Metanoia – change your thinking, change your life! What’s more, the Hebrew word we translate as “repent” is shuv – turn around, change direction. Return to God with heart, mind, and soul. Of course, making a change in our lives is not easy. It requires endurance, awareness, study, and commitment. But it moves us forward on the path God shows to us. When we realize that we need to change, we will feel some regret – but regret is our launch pad. Change is our trajectory.
Reading the verses from the book of Jonah shows us how challenging it can be to change, and how tirelessly God calls us to transform our hearts. Jonah struggled on his own. We have the companionship of the faith community. Together, we learn from Jesus about the changes God desires for us – that we would live with greater mercy, justice, love, and joy. We learn from each other what we can do for the well-being of others and ourselves. Along the way, we feel our hearts being transformed. This is the journey of repentance – metanoia – shuv. Our feet may grow tired, but they won’t get stuck, and we are walking together with Christ.
Gracious God, help me to be open to the changes you desire for my life. With the power of your love, keep transforming me for the sake of your Kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.