Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA, 25 Jan., 2015, Epiphany 3
Year B RCL: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:6-14; 1 Corinthians 7: 29-31; Mark 1:14-20
Jesus says: Drop everything & follow me.
Do we have the grace to do as the disciples do?
Our Psalm assures us: “Power belongs to God”. Despite God’s power, God will not force us to follow Jesus. Yet God’s steadfast love keeps reaching out to embrace us & every human being.
We know the disciples drop everything – immediately. No quibbling about dropping out of their business obligations, finding replacements for them to help Dad in the family business, no questions to Jesus about his people-fishing business: Are there paid vacations? A retirement account?
What a contrast our Gospel gives us to our lesson from Jonah! Today’s reading says: The Word of the Lord came to Jonah a 2nd time. What do you remember from the first time? [Flees in opposite direction. Big storm. Pagan sailors pray to Jonah’s God to save them. Jonah says: throw me overboard. They do. A big fish swallows him & 3 days later vomits him out on the beach.]
Today we see the pig-headed prophet [to use south Georgia imagery] going through the motions. I wonder if he cries out the message in a monotone: “40 days more and Nineveh is overthrown.” However he says it, the people of Nineveh hear, believe & respond immediately.
Our scripture says Nineveh is exceedingly large. Several sources say archaeologists have not found such a site but have found a site of a city about 3 miles long by 1½ miles wide.1 More important than physical size is how Nineveh looms large over the peoples it oppresses in the 5th century Before Christ. As Assyria’s capital, it is a huge force of pagan power. One write says: Nineveh is hated because the Assyrians have destroyed Israel’s Northern Kingdom, wrecked Judah’s towns & ravaged all countries in the Near East.”2
Jonah’s disobedience & pig-headedness reflect the attitude of many of his contemporaries, who just can’t see how God could possibly offer mercy to the wicked who cause so much suffering.3
In our times: Think Hitler. Think 911. Think ISIS.
God’s call to Jonah to warn his era’s Nazis of pending doom challenges Jonah & others like him, who can’t see God’s forgiveness & mercy reaching to people who have hurt them & are outside God’s covenant.
Yet Nineveh & its people are part of God’s creation that God calls good, so they must have time to repent…4 In this book of Jonah, we see God’s love reaching out. As Matthews says5: We see a new perspective developing among people in Jonah’s day: They start to see that their belief in one God means that God is God of all, so even hated, brutal enemies can belong to God & must have the chance to hear God’s message of love, grace & repentance.
This perspective makes it possible for people in Jonah’s day – for us – to pray for our enemies.The book of Jonah shows us that “…simple justice is not God’s way; God remains free to be gracious to those who deserve nothing less than punishment.”6
It shows us how widely God’s mercy flows to embrace
all the human family.
We express this in Morning Prayer in our Prayer for Mission at the top of page 101: Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love
on the hard wood of the cross that everyone
might come within the reach of your saving embrace:
So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love,
may bring those who do not know you
to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.
Like this prayer, our scriptures assure us we can make a difference in the human family. That is the essence of Jonah’s story & our Gospel: Do what God calls us – you – to do & we serve God’s will for all.
The message is simple:
God loves you. No exceptions. All are welcome....
Remember this when we move into our Annual Meeting:
What does God require of us, want of us &
need of us in 2015?
Dios Habla Hoy: La Biblia. 2da Ed. Nueva York: Sociedad Bíblica Americana. 1983.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1988.
Hegedus,The Rev. Dr. Frank. “Follow me”. “Follow me”. http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2015/01/12/3-epiphany-b-2015/.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
Lectionary Page. http://www.lectionarypage.net/. Accessed: 5 Jan.. 2015.
Matthews, Victor H. Social World of the Hebrew Prophets. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers. Inc. 2001.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Expanded Ed. Revised Stantard Version. Eds: Herbert G. May. Bruce M. Metzger. New York: Oxford University Press. 1977.
1 Among sources: Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. P. 729. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. P. 1121.
2 Matthews, Victor H. Social World of the Hebrew Prophets. P. 163.
3 Ibid. Harper’s. P. 728.
4 Ibid. Matthews.
5 Ibid. P. 167.
6 Ibid. Harper’s. P. 728.