Two very different responses to the call this week: Mark tells us about Jesus hanging by the Sea of Galilee and inviting brothers Simon and Andrew and then James and John to join him. Not sure if it is a commentary on their faith or how lousy a job fishing is, but the two sets of brothers “immediately” dropped everything and followed. They put no thought into it at all, made no preparations, just walked off the job.
Jonah’s answer may have been immediate, but it was not at all like the one in Mark. Called to go to Nineveh, located near present day Mosul in Iraq, Jonah booked passage to Tarshish (the precise location is not known and the word might only indicate “very far away” although one possible location is on the Iberian peninsula which indeed would be very far away.
The word that gets translated as “repent” literally means to change your mind. It is also used to describe a course change on a ship. Jonah went 180 degrees from where God wanted him, but the great fish provided him with another 180-degree course change. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire and a traditional enemy of Israel, but that was not the reason why Jonah didn’t want to go there.
Jonah didn’t want to go because he knew that God would change God’s mind and not destroy the city. Jonah understood the nature of God (“gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love”), he didn’t want to go because he knew God would let the Ninevites off the hook (fishing pun intended). Jonah wanted them to get the punishment they deserved. Funny thing is, trusting in your own righteousness is just as bad a transgression as those committed by the Ninevites.
I cannot miss the opportunity to give thanks for the life and work of Dr. Marcus Borg who died this week at the age of 72. Sometimes the source of controversy, Dr. Borg’s field of study was the historical Jesus and his work did a great deal to strengthen my own sense of call to ministry as well as my understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. In his last book he wrote, “Imagine that Christianity is about loving God. Imagine that it’s not about the self and its concerns, about ‘what’s in it for me,’ whether that be a blessed afterlife or prosperity in this life.”
Here is a quote from Dr. Borg’s book, “The God We Never Knew:Beyond Dogmatic Religion to a More Authentic Contemporary Faith”
“The point is not that Jesus was a good guy who accepted everybody, and thus we should do the same (though that would be good). Rather, his teachings and behavior reflect an alternative social vision. Jesus was not talking about how to be good and how to behave within the framework of a domination system. He was a critic of the domination system itself.”