Lesson: Jonah 3:1-5, 10
1 The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2 “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” 3 So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. 4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.
10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
The Book of Jonah is one of the shortest in the Bible and is included in the Bible with the 12 Minor Prophets. Even though Jonah is never described in the Book as a “prophet,” he is a “reluctant prophet” who speaks for YHWH (translated as “LORD” in the NRSV) by urging the Assyrians to repent (3:4). Ironically, although Jonah initially rejects YHWH’s call, he is — according to the story – the most successful prophet ever.
The Book of Jonah was written during the “Persian Period” (539 BCE to 333 BCE). The story, however, was necessarily set hundreds of years earlier in the period of Assyrian power – a time of Assyrian conquests and threats against Israel and Judea (850 to 612 BCE).
Sending Jonah to convert Nineveh (the Assyrian capital, and modern-day Mosul) at the height of Assyria’s power would be seen by everyone as a “Mission Impossible” task. When told by God to go to Nineveh, Jonah got on a ship for Tarshish (the end of the earth for a Mediterranean person, namely, Spain) – about as far from Assyria as he could possibly go.
Notwithstanding his attempts to avoid his mission to Nineveh, the story recounted that Jonah was thrown overboard by the sailors because his disobedience to God was seen by the sailors as the cause of a great storm. He was then swallowed by a fish, spit out by the fish on the shore and went to Nineveh. Once there, he warned the Assyrians of impending destruction if they did not repent. To Jonah’s amazement, the Assyrians and their king repented. God’s mind was changed, and God decided not to punish them.
Today’s reading recounts Jonah’s preaching in Nineveh, the repentance of the people, and God’s relenting in the decision to destroy Nineveh.
The story emphasized two theological understandings that are found in many of the stories in the Hebrew Bible: (1) God directs all that happens and (2) God sometimes has a change of mind.
In the next chapter, Jonah became angry with God for being merciful to the Assyrians. Echoing YHWH’s “self-description” in Exodus 34:6 that God is merciful and abounding in steadfast love, Jonah told YHWH that he fled to Tarshish precisely because he knew God would be willing to relent from punishing the Assyrians (4:2). Jonah wanted Nineveh to be punished and was so angry about God’s relenting that he preferred to die (4:3, 4:8) rather than see the “enemy” repent and receive God’s mercy.
The Jonah story is not history. Nineveh never repented in the 8th Century BCE. The Assyrian Empire destroyed the Northern 10 tribes (Israel) in 722 BCE. Assyria put Judea under siege for many years around 700 BCE. By the time of the writing of this story, Nineveh had long since been destroyed by the Babylonians in 612 BCE.
The Book of Jonah emphasized the inclusivity of God’s love and mercy for all, not just the people of Israel and Judea. Similarly, the Book of Ruth (in which a Moabite woman – the Moabites were a hated enemy of Judea — became the great grandmother of King David) and portions of the Book of Isaiah convey the message that God’s mercy and love are inclusive.
Other books of the Bible, such as Ezra and Nehemiah (written around 450 BCE), required the Jewish people be exclusive. Some of the Jews who remained in Jerusalem during the Exile had intermarried. After the Exile, they were required by Ezra to send away their foreign wives and the children they had by them (Ezra 10:3).
The tension (and disagreement within Judaism) between inclusivity and exclusivity continued into the First Century of the Common Era. In opposition to the exclusivist Sadducees, Jesus of Nazareth was clearly presented in the Gospels as an inclusivist.
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 7:29-31
29 I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, 30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, 31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.
Corinth, a large port city in Greece, was among the early Jesus Follower communities that Paul founded. Its culture was diverse and Hellenistic, and Corinthians emphasized reason and secular wisdom. In addition to Paul, other Jesus Followers also taught in Corinth, sometimes in ways inconsistent with Paul’s understandings of what it means to be a Jesus Follower. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was written in the 50’s (CE) (likely while Paul was in Ephesus) and presented his views on several issues.
Today’s reading is lifted from a chapter that deals primarily with Paul’s views on sexual morality, and that responds to part of a letter to him from the Corinthians that said: “It is well for a man not to touch a woman.” (7.1)
In the first part of this Chapter, Paul rejected mandatory celibacy and presented a more nuanced approach. But because he believed current age was about to end, Paul was more concerned with changes in marital status than with marriage per se.
The verses for today reflected Paul’s understanding that the current economic system in Corinth (private property, slavery, commerce) and social forms (such as patriarchal marriage) were about to disappear (v. 31) when a new order arrived. Over time, these notions of a new order evolved into the idea of the “Second Coming” of the Christ.
The “Second Coming” developed relatively early in the Jesus Follower Movement because the Jesus Followers recognized that Jesus of Nazareth had not fulfilled all the traditional “job descriptions” of the Messiah in his earthly life – the nation was not unified; the Romans were not expelled; and Shalom (peace and order) did not reign. It became understood that at the Second Coming, all will be fulfilled.
Gospel: Mark 1:14-20
14 After John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
The Gospel According to Mark was the first Gospel that was written and is generally dated to the time around the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. Mark’s Gospel is the shortest gospel and forms the core for the Gospels According to Matthew and Luke (both of which were written around 85 CE). Over 50% of the material in those two Gospels is based on Mark. Because these three Gospels follow similar chronologies of Jesus’ life and death, they are called “Synoptic Gospels” for the Greek words meaning “Same Look/View.”
Today’s reading contains the first words of Jesus that are reported as part of his public ministry. In saying the “Kingdom of God has come near,” Jesus proclaimed that the ideal state is beginning but has not yet been accomplished. In preaching repentance, Jesus (like John the Baptist) called for a “change of mind” in which one’s heart and whole inner being is called to “return” to God.
The call of disciples in Mark is quite different from the story last week in the Fourth Gospel of the calls of Phillip and Nathaniel. Simon is later called “Peter.” James (son of Zebedee) is to be distinguished from James the brother of Jesus who became the leader of the Jesus Follower Movement in Jerusalem and from James “the Less” (another apostle).
In the First Century, it would have been unusual for a rabbi/teacher to call disciples. Typically, disciples sought out a master. Here, the Gospel writer follows a pattern set by Elijah in his call of Elisha to be his disciple (1 Kings 19:19).