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Bible Study Guide for Sunday January 24, 2021

January 20, 2021

● Jonah 3:1-5, 10

● Psalm 62:6-14

● 1 Corinthians 7:29-31

● Mark 1:14-20

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus calls Simon and Andrew, and then James and John, to become fishers of people, proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God. They immediately drop their nets and follow him. In the first reading, Jonah is also called to fish for people, to call them to repentance in the face of coming judgment. Jonah is phenomenally successful. The entire city believes him, proclaims a fast and repents in sackcloth and ashes. In light of their response, God looks at them with compassion and has mercy. This makes Jonah absolutely furious. Wait, what?

Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria, which has been described as the first military power in history. Assyria was a brutal conquering force, and celebrated their own brutality. Assyria’s forces left devastation in their wake in ways the world had not seen before. If ever a nation had richly earned God’s judgment, the Assyrians had done so. When God sent Jonah to fish for people, that call was to fish for these people. Jonah wanted nothing to do with this and quickly hopped on a ship going in the opposite direction. A massive storm threatened to sink this ship with everyone on it until Jonah admitted this was due to him and he was tossed overboard. A great fish then swallowed Jonah and “spewed him out” onto dry land near Nineveh. Our reading picks up when God again tells Jonah to call this terrible city to repentance. And he halfheartedly does, though he wasn’t even willing to cross the entire city. Jonah walks through a third of the city saying that Nineveh would soon be overthrown. And, amazingly, the people respond and the whole city proclaims a fast, wears sackcloth as a sign of mourning, and begs God to spare them. And in God’s mercy and compassion, God relents.

In Chapter 4, Jonah is furious by this. This is why he hadn’t wanted to go to Nineveh, because he knew God is a big softie and would withhold punishment, and this is a terrible city that so deserved destruction. Nevertheless God has compassion on “that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:11)

As Jonah may have suspected, the Ninevehites’ repentance did not last. The book of Jonah is thought to be set about 760 BC. Fifteen years later, Assyria has a new king who reforms the army to make it more powerful. They are back to their warmongering ways and destroy the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 721 BC. The book of Nahum prophesies the destruction of Nineveh, the “city of bloodshed, utterly deceitful, full of booty” (Nahum 3:1) which eventually occurred in 612 BC. God’s mercy in the time of Jonah gave Nineveh another chance, and they used that chance to grow stronger and

conquer more nations, including Israel, before Assyria was eventually destroyed a hundred and fifty years later. Jonah’s reluctance seems entirely understandable.

Jesus preaches a message of repentance, for the Kingdom of God is at hand, and calls his followers to join in preaching that message. This isn’t a light or easy job. You don’t preach repentance when people haven’t done anything wrong. Sometimes, like Jonah, there are people we don’t want to see repent, because some judgment seems so entirely right and necessary. Good news for sinners is not necessarily good news for those sinned against. God doesn’t overlook the harm done but God will respond to repentance – but we can never know for sure whose repentance will last and who will come back and do harm again. Showing mercy is taking a risk, and it’s a risk that Jesus calls us to take with him.

· Have there been times when it’s been hard for you to see grace extended? What happened as a result?

· God relented in the time of Jonah, but Nineveh was eventually destroyed a hundred and fifty years later. How do we hold both judgment and mercy together?

· Have you ever had to seek the good of someone who did not deserve it? What was that like?

Author: Kristen Filipic


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