Thursday, January 19, 2012

God sent fish tales Jonah and Mark 1:14-20

Consider two fish stories: Jonah and Peter.  They had one thing in common: both of them had great success fishing for people. The church today joins Jonah and Peter and a whole lot of others who, over the years, have fished for souls spreading news that God's kingdom is drawing near.

Our reading, Jonah 3:1-5, Jonah 3:10 gives details of Jonah's ministry to Nineveh. 5 words of his preaching survive in Jonah 3:4.  He declared, עוֹד אַרְבָּעִים יוֹם וְ‍נִינְוֵה נֶהְפָּכֶת  Only forty days Nineveh destroyed Jonah convinced everyone in Nineveh from the King to the lowest person to put away violence and greed. Fancy clothes and jewelry were shelved.  The people chose simple dress and humility.  God saw it all and he viewed the city differently. This is what happens when God sends people out to fish for other people, but this isn't the whole story.  Luther described Jonah's preaching as transformative,

Just look at this city! Jonah preached only a day’s journey, and not every citizen heard him; yet they were all converted. Neither Christ nor all the apostles and prophets were ever able to bring Jerusalem to that point by means of their words and their miracles, though they ministered to it for a long time and preached from one end of the city to the other. God might exclaim here, too, as Christ did in Matt. 8:10 about the centurion: “Not even in Israel have I found such faith.” Luther's Works, Vol. 19 : Minor Prophets II: Jonah and Habakkuk, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann, Luther's Works (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1974) page 85.
Everyone who goes fishing knows there are many parts to a fish tale. In Jonah 3 we hear of the amazing catch, a great city caught by word of God's judgment turned away from evil. But there's more to the story.  Jonah heard God's plans plainly and clearly Jonah 1:1-2. God gave him direction. Get up and go north to Nineveh an in mercy tell them to repent.  God was sending Jonah his enemies to call them to repentence. Jonah heard the direction and resisted Jonah 1:3. He knew God is merciful to Nineveh and he didn't want to be a part of it.  And just like a skilled fisherman God let Jonah run fast and hard with the hook of God's own mercy set deep in his mouth.

God's mercy cut deep.  Jonah didn't want it extended to his enemies. The mercy of God dug deeper in as wind and waves rocked the ship Jonah 1:4-5. Jonah knew it was him God wanted.  "Toss me to the sea"  he told the crew. They prayed for mercy as they threw him overboard. Something, a whale, or a fish as big as a whale, swallowed Jonah.  He'd run; but he couldn't get away.

Trout with a hook inside will fight hard getting between rocks, fallen branches, and tree roots or diving into the deepest hole in a stream to get away from a fisherman.  And Jonah, like a great lunker German Brown trout had fought all the way.  Exhausted he sunk into deepest darkest farthest place he could get; but God wasn't going to give up and let the line snap. He waited Jonah out and like a net catching an exhausted fish God sent a fish to catch Jonah.

In that fish Jonah prayed humbling himself before God.  He was spewed out to spread the word of God's mercy. 

Jesus called others generations later to fish for people too.  First was Peter.  He knew how to catch fish when Jesus called him.  In years to come he would catch many people too.  Jesus called to him out in his  boat saying, "Follow me"  Mark 1:17.  These words were the start of an adventure for Peter that didn't end on this earth.  Pastor Ron Allen spoke of Peter marvelling at how little he could have imagined when he first heard these words from Jesus.  "Follow me" oh think how far this fisherman would follow.  But the meaning of these words would have been most clear only dayss later. 

Peter, this fisherman from Galilee would follow Jesus around Israel.  He would watch blind men see and daemons leave tormented people at Jesus command.   After Jesus' resurrection Peter would preach and thousands would come to faith.  Peter this fisherman would follow all the way from Lake Galilee to Rome where he would offer his own life to share the news of Jesus teaching, healing, dying and rising.  And it all started when Peter followed Jesus' call, "Follow me."

Thank God he put down his nets to follow.  Pax, John

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