Jonah and Reconciliation (posted 2/28/07, delivered 2/28/07)
May 3, 2007
Jonah has a very simple story. God asks Jonah to warn the people of Nineveh of their wrongdoing. Jonah tries to run away from God. God shows God’s power by sending a storm Jonah’s way and has him swallowed by a fish. Three day’s later, Jonah reconciles with God. He fulfills God’s wish and warns the people of Nineveh. They then reconcile with God. That’s about it. This short and seemingly trivial story illustrates the most powerful and important aspect of our faith as Christians: reconciliation.
In reading this story, there were three significant points that stood out to me about reconciliation. The first point is that you must reconcile with God yourself before you can bring someone else into reconciliation with God. All too often, we look at others and tell them what we feel they should change to get right with God without looking at ourselves and doing the same thing. For example:
“He needs to stop all that smoking. Doesn’t he know his body is a temple?”
When we go to MacDonald’s and KFC at least three times a week. Or:
“She uses too many curse words. Doesn’t she know it is what comes out of her mouth that defiles her?”
When we lied to the last five homeless people that asked if we could spare some change. While we are so focused on the shortcomings of others, we are running away from God in our own lives and are in the midst of a tempestuous sea of troubles. Before you know it we are tossed from our ships of security and are swallowed whole in the belly of solitude. Sadly, for some of us, this is the only way we are able to pay attention to God in our own lives. I know for myself I had to be stripped of everything in order to recognize that in the absence of everything, God is still there. If we channel the energy we are putting into noticing the faults of others towards our own faults, then we can be reconciled with God and have the strength to not accuse or look down on others, but help them gain reconciliation for themselves.
The second point that stood out to me was the fact that reconciliation does not come by simply changing your habits. Just because you stop smoking or stop drinking or stop cursing or start exercising or start eating right doesn’t mean you have necessarily reconciled with God. That just makes you a health conscious person. On the same note, going to church every week, crossing yourself, putting on ashes, fasting or even wearing a habit doesn’t reconcile you to God. Reconciliation is internal. It is personal. It is a change in your focus, a wake-up call in your spirit. Reconciliation is the moment of epiphany when you reroute your spiritual journey in order to walk with Christ in the direction of the Father. It is when you recognize that the Holy Spirit is tapping you on the shoulder, telling you it is time for a change. Changes in habits are simply outward expressions of an internal change. Jonah 3.10 says, “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God repented of the evil which he had said he would do to them; and he did not do it.” It didn’t say “when God saw how they fasted” or “put on sackcloth” or “sat in ashes.” God doesn’t look at external actions. God’s focus is on the internal change. Once a person makes a spiritual change, their actions and habits will naturally exemplify that change. Breaking bad habits is an after-effect of the internal spiritual change, not the other way around.
Now, we know that we need to reconcile with God and we know that it is an internal change. But the challenge comes in when we don’t know how to reconcile with God. We all have our own concept of an ideal Christian life. We think we know what God wants us to do, but it is often difficult to know how to come into reconciliation with God. The answer to that question, “How,” is the third thing that stood out to me in Jonah’s story. Jonah 3.5 says, “And the people of Nineveh believed God…” That’s it: just believe. Believe that God is omniscient. Know that God knows what you have done, what you are doing and what you will do. God knows your strengths and weakness. God knows where you are confident and where you are insecure. God knows what you think of yourself and what you think of others. Therefore, it is futile to think that you can run away from the all-knowing presence of God. God knows where you will end up before you even decide to start running. If you accept that God is the quintessential know-it-all, God will share that mystical knowledge with you as you grow closer to God.
Believe that God is omnipotent. Understand that God possesses the power to change every facet of your life. God can throw you in a desert to give you a wake-up call and can place you at an oasis to show you God’s grace. God can overthrow your world and reorder it so that God’s will can be fulfilled in your life. God can remove the bad, restore the broken and replenish the good in your life. God’s power is infinite and eternal. When you truly believe in God’s power, you will realize that God’s power is within you and you will be able to not only know what God wants but you will possess the power to change in order to reconcile and live righteously.
Most importantly, believe that God is all-loving and all-forgiving. Know that there is nothing you can think, say or do that God will not be able to forgive. Realize that all of our sins have been nailed to the cross with Jesus. God knows our faults and shortcomings, that’s why God sent the Savior. We have already been forgiven. God’s love has saved us. When you truly start to believe that God’s love forgives all, a spirit of humility will overwhelm you and you will want nothing else but to thank God in your thoughts, words and deeds. You will know as God knows, possess the strength of God, and have the humility to be thankful for God’s grace in spite of your unworthiness. You will be able to not only fully accept yourself and forgive yourself, but you will be able to forgive everyone around you.
Believing in God’s wonder can unlock and open so many doors that reconciliation will happen without forcing it. You will reconcile because you want to, not because you have to. Believing in God despite the obstacles of reality is the key to sincere and complete reconciliation with not only God but with yourself and with others.
So, these were the things that stood out to me: focus on yourself before looking at others, reconcile inwardly and let your actions be the after-effect of reconciliation and believe that God is God in all of God’s wonder. I encourage you to go back and read Jonah for yourself. When a word or a phrase jumps out at you, stop and meditate on it. Follow the Holy Spirit and find your own message in the text. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.