This past Sunday, Neil, the pastor at Oasis church, gave the first of what will be a series of messages on the book of Jonah. I enjoyed it, as the story of the travails of the most reluctant prophet, Jonah, is one of my favorite books of the Bible. But one thing that I have learned recently, both from watching news of the fighting in Iraq, and from one of the slides Neil showed us, is that ancient Nineveh, the city Jonah was told by God to preach to, today is Mosul. For the past several months a battle has been waged in Mosul, as Iraqi and allied forces are fighting to retake the city from the Islamic State (IS), a truly horrible and repressive regime. The battle is going “well,” although as in every war, unfortunately too many innocent lives are lost and there is much heartache and destruction. We must all pray for the people of Mosul, that they will soon be freed from this awful regime and the scourge of war.
While we can feel sad in the abstract about what is happening in far-away Iraq, Neil said one important thing that brings the lesson of this book near: God may call me to go and preach to the most evil people, even the evil Islamic State! Consider what is written in verse 2: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” In the past when I read this book, it was hard for me to identify with Jonah and his disobedience. I would think, “If God spoke so clearly to me, surely I would obey him. How could I do otherwise?” But when we realize that today’s Nineveh is the city of Mosul, a place that for the past couple of years has been ruled by what I see as a place of “wickedness,” would I obey God, go there and preach to them? It seems crazy. If I went there now, and walked through the city telling the people to repent, it would mean certain death. My guess is that Jonah must have felt the same way. He probably thought that going to such a city to preach against it would mean his death. So he did what was logical, and ran the other way. I now can better understand why Jonah ran away.
I am thankful that I am not called to go to Mosul, or some other city where there is “wickedness,” and preach against it. But I believe that God does call me to preach to the people of Macao, to share God’s good news with them, and for me to be salt and light. This is what it means to be a follower of Christ. This is not something that is conditional, as some people on the Christian right may say, and who are enamored with the allure of wealth and power, on whether the other person is good or bad, or will repent and accept God’s message. God did not tell Jonah what would happen after he preached to the people of Nineveh. All God said was go and preach against it. In the same way, to be a follower of Christ means to be a disciple and witness for Christ. As I think of this now, in light of the book of Jonah, and the current condition of the city of Mosul, I find this to be a “hard teaching.” May God give me, and us all, the grace and power to obey his teachings.