on reluctance

Here's the reflection on the readings I gave this morning at our intercommunity novitiate program liturgy:

As you may or may not know, the United Nations has a new Secretary General. Kofi Anan’s term ended in December, and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon from South Korea is now in charge.

Last month there was an article in the New York Times heralding Secretary Ban’s arrival in the Big Apple.

The new secretary general noted that he was “not a stranger to New York.” He was in the city for a while in 1975, representing the South Korean government, and happened to be back for United Nations-related work on Sept. 11, 2001.

As the article pointed out, he was here at the depth of New York’s worst fiscal crisis in 1975 and at the bloodiest moment in its history in 2001. As Secretary Ban said, he has “seen the city in its most challenging times.”

The New York Times Reporter ends the article with the following response to that comment:

“That he has. New Yorkers can only hope this is nothing more than a coincidence, not a sign that the seemingly unassuming Mr. Ban is something of a Jonah.”

I was struck by that last phrase … “Something of a Jonah.” To say the least, it is an interesting pop culture reference to the biblical figure featured in both of our readings today.

Jonah’s story is prominent not only in our Christian tradition, but in Judaism and Islam as well.

The Koran paints a portrait of Jonah, known as the Prophet Yunus, as one who is faithful to God and delivers his messages.

In the Jewish tradition, the story of the reluctant prophet is read each year on Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement.

Jonah was certainly a very reluctant prophet.

Today’s first reading begins: “The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time.”

The key word in there is second.

In the first Chapter, the Lord says to Jonah, “"Set out for the great city of Nineveh, and preach against it; their wickedness has come up before me.” Pretty clear, don’t you think?

But what does Jonah do? Instead of going to Ninevah, he flees to Tarshish, which was in the exact opposite direction! I’m sure you remember the rest of the story … the storm at sea, his sojourn in the belly of the whale. Eventually Jonah calls upon God to save him, and the Lord commands the whale to “spew” him upon the Shore. This is where the story picks up today.

Considering what happened after the first time, it’s not surprising that he jumped up and was ready to go when God called the second time.

I don’t know about you, but I can certainly identify with Jonah. I wish I could listen the first time, or even the second, third or fourth time. But sometimes it seems like I have to spend three days and three nights in the belly of the whale before I get the point.

What’s interesting is that despite his reluctance to undertake the task God sets before him, Jonah is in the end quite successful (once he stops running away). He is perhaps the most successful of the prophets. He preaches God’s message - and the people of Nineveh are able to not only hear it but they act swiftly upon it, and are consequently spared death and destruction.

I wonder, do we have what it takes to hear God’s call to repentance and right relationship? Can we, like the people of Nineveh, take the message swiftly into our hearts? Or are we even willing to admit the need for prophets in our world today?

The New York Times article makes me think that we’re not prepared to find “something of a Jonah” in our midst. Not only do we face the problem of reluctant prophets, we face the problem of reluctant Ninevites.

Jesus is pretty harsh in today’s Gospel reading. “This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah. … at the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because at the preaching of Jonah they repented, and there is something greater than Jonah here.”

We’re now one week into the season of Lent. It seems to me we’re being invited by today’s readings to honestly ask ourselves two sets of questions:

First - How ready are we to hear God’s call to repentance and right relationship in our own lives – whether that is with our families, our fellow novices, with the poor and oppressed. or with our planet?

Second - Having presumably been able to hear God’s call – even if we spend some time in the belly of the whale first - how ready are we to act upon it? Now. Today. Or would we rather climb back into the whale, or simply await death and destruction?

I seem to have only questions, not answers. But I think that’s ok.

For me, the key is to know that I cannot do it alone. As our Psalmist prays, so might we pray: A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.

1 comment:

Vicky said...

Wow, your reflection is really good!