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Jonah 3:1-5, 10

As we continue through the season of Epiphany where we remember the journey of the magi and the ministry of Jesus, this passage in Jonah may seem out of place. However, revelations of God’s grace are woven throughout this small prophetic word.

 

Provisions of God’s grace are everywhere – even in this small section of narrative. Even from the very first verse where “the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time,” God is providing a pathway for grace to be received (3:1). Jonah runs away and dismisses God’s first message (John 1), but God speaks again, giving both the Ninevites and Jonah himself another opportunity to turn back to God. Jonah’s fear and hesitation doesn’t stop God from pursuing God’s people. Our fear and hesitation doesn’t stop God or God’s grace from pursuing us or the world. As we continue reading, we find that Jonah accepts God’s calling – perhaps begrudgingly – and journeys into Ninevah. It is interesting that he only goes a third of the way, perhaps not even reaching the city center…. Regardless, the message is proclaimed, “and the people of Ninevah believed God” (3:5). The passage says that “everyone, great and small,” participated in widespread fasting, a spiritual practice that invites the participants deeper into relationship with God.

 

Just like music, God’s grace is dynamic and moving, beautiful and passionate. In repentance and in other means of grace, God goes before us, inviting us into grace-filled relationship. Any invitation compels a response, and we are able to accept or reject what God invites us into. If we accept God’s invitation, our journey of transformation begins in and through God’s grace! As we continue to accept God’s grace-enveloped invitation, God works in us and through us, healing and transforming both our very selves and, through us, the world in which we live. We become vessels and embodiments of that transforming grace, and we are then called to invite others into this same rhythm.

 

This same journey is found here in this passage. God’s grace goes before the people of Ninevah, providing a pathway of forgiveness and reconciliation. At face value, Jonah’s message is one of impending destruction, but grace is still woven into it. The message itself is an invitation of grace and forgiveness, a chance for the people of Ninevah to choose something different than their current path. The people of Ninevah choose to believe, turning towards God instead of violence, and they respond to God’s invitation with a fast.

 

The declaration of fasting displays a community-wide desperation for forgiveness and God’s grace. It says in verse 5 that the people of Ninevah believed and then fasted, and this practice precedes their repentance: “they turned from their evil ways” (3:10). In the Wesleyan tradition, fasting is actually considered a means of grace in itself. Wesley preached that “fasting is a way which God has ordained for us to receive his unmerited mercy; God is not obligated to give us anything, but he has promised to freely give us his blessing.”[1] When participating in fasting, we intentionally remember our dependence on God, the primary source and giver of life, to sustain us. We posture ourselves in a place of emptiness, asking God to fill us and to meet our needs. For the people of Ninevah, and for all humanity, the need is great: we need forgiveness. The fasting of the Ninevites was a cry out for mercy in a posture of repentance. Unfortunately, we don’t get to know the end of the story, but we can hope that this repentance is the beginning of a beautiful story of transformation.  

 

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