Lection Notes
Lection Notes
3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 26, 2003

Lection Readings:

Jonah 3:1-5

Jonah is one of my favorite short stories. It has all the elements of plot, protagonist, antagonist, twists, failure, success, failure, and resolution. I can never preach on a single element without telling the whole story - it's just too much fun. The details in the parallelisms cry out!

For example, God approaches Jonah to deliver a message of judgment to Nineveh, "that great city," because of their wickedness. However, Jonah rebels (acts wickedly) and flees. God judges Jonah's actions with the help of a few sailors who, fearing for their life and their subsequent actions, show God more respect than Jonah had by tossing Jonah into the sea. Jonah is in a watery grave of judgment, but God prepares a great fish to swallow him up, and holds Jonah three days in the belly of the sea, yet, preserves him by God's mercy.

Jonah sings a song of thanksgiving (or so the subtitles on my NRSV would indicate), at which point God spewed Jonah out of the fish's belly onto dry land (the shores of Nineveh). I always have to point out here that the fish needed to swim up the Tigris and Euphrates to get to Nineveh, that Nineveh was the seat of Babylonia power (and Israel's captivity), and that maybe there's a bit of a story behind the story here .

The resurrected Jonah appears in the city, preaching a 40-day timetable for destruction. The people of Nineveh believed God, fasted, sitting in sackcloth and ashes, from the king to the cattle (a little picture of cattle dressed in sackcloth is helpful here, too). God is so moved by the show of repentance that God changed God's mind about the calamity (v10), which really gets Jonah's goat (4:1).

The whole story is a wonderful parable / allegory about forgiveness. Should we forgive our enemies? Should we preach repentance to those who merit destruction? Should we show mercy when they repent? One could bring in the lines of the Lord's prayer - forgive us our debts / trespasses as we forgive our debtors / those who trespass against us. Having received mercy and not judgment, having died to our rebellious past, having agreed to the obedience we first resisted, shall we not show forth grace for grace?

Psalm 62: 5-12

This is the reprise of the thanksgiving began in vv. 1-2, following the exposition of the problem in vv. 3-4. The reprise builds into an exhortation to the community to heed the psalmist's conviction - God is a refuge for us.

Different takes on the meanings of vv. 3-4 appear in different commentaries. Briggs feels the tottering wall are the opponents, i.e., they are doomed to failure. Weise feels (as I do) that the opponents are relentless attempting to take advantage of the petitioner's weakness (about to topple) and gloat to do it (to remove a man from his station).

Again, Briggs, in vv.9-10 suggests the reference is to the opponents (who have no weight, who are but a breath), whereas I see it as a reference to humanity in totality, i.e., there is nothing humanity can fashion against those who trust in God, for "power belongs to God," i.e., not human beings, "and steadfast love / faithfulness belongs to you, O Lord (personal address).

Verse 12 is a later gloss, as are some other portions, but the meat of the song is this: in adversity, running to God (and not away) to wait (alone) in silence, will always pay the dividends of God's power and faithfulness. Nothing else will shake you, once you have found that only God can help - and waiting upon God becomes the end of the matter, rather than the beginning. In other words, waiting on God becomes the absolutely right end of the whole matter, for nothing else beyond that matters. The outcome is irrelevant (in the arenas of human action) once the soul has fixed its hope on God it will never be shaken.

Mark 1: 4-20

It might be interesting to speculate a bit in this pericope. We know that in John's gospel, these men are already disciples of John the Baptist. We have here the aftermath of John's arrest (were the sheep scattered when the shepherd was smitten?). Is Jesus picking up where John left off? Did the disciples return to their boats / homes when John was arrested (much as this same crowd will when Jesus is taken from them in future)? What must it have felt like to be a disciple of John, to see him arrested, then to have Jesus appear saying, "follow me." The absurd swiftness of Mark's "immediately" might best be understood in the context of John's disciples perceiving in Jesus a renewed hope of what had been lost to them - another crazy itinerant preaching the coming kingdom even after Herod just put the latest and greatest out of business. How do we respond when powers and principalities in life dash our hopes and unchain our fears? Are we as ready to be "recalled" to service when everything we'd hoped we were involved in is arrested/imprisoned/beheaded?

(Comments to Michael at mphillip@epix.net.)

First Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Berwick, Pennsylvania (Susquehanna North Branch)