Today in Sunday School we relived the story of Jonah. It begins with Jonah, a prophet, being called upon by God to witness to the Nineveh people. This is very unusual. Before the story of Jonah when God addresses a prophet it is to call his own people to repent; that is the people of Israel. These people were not of God. They were more accurately God’s peoples’ enemies. Time and again we read of them and their wars with the Israelites.
Nineveh is the capitol of Assyria in Jonah’s time. In the books of Kings and Chronicles we find gruesome battles between the nations. Jonah is likely to have had friends and family members murdered by Assryians. He probably had friends with treacherous stories of the people. The feud between Assyria and Israel was not some childish nightmare, but rather a real life holocaust. The Assyrians were known for their violence. At the entrance gate of Assyria they placed the heads and skulls of their defeated enemies. It was a source of pride for their dominance.
Thus when Jonah was told by God to enter the city of Nineveh and teach them the ways of God, Jonah ran in the other direction. His hatred for them was greater than his love for God. Eventually Jonah made his way to the city of Nineveh albeit through a large fish for part of the journey. But even after entering the city and having the Ninevites yield to his warnings, Jonah was still angry at God. How could he save such a savage people?
But today I learned of another man in a similar situation during the fifth century. He is a man that was born and raised in Britian to an aristocrat family. Very well to do. At the age of 16 he was captured by Irish pirates and taken to Ireland to be a slave. The Irish were seen merely as barbarians and their capture of a teenager would attest to this assumption. During his enslavement this boy grew into a man of God. We know him today as Saint Patrick. His father was a deacon in the church and attending the Roman Catholic Church was a necessity to their status. Despite Patrick’s attendance, God was not a priority nor a reality to him.
But while he was a slave working the fields of a mad-man he knew that God was all he could turn too. In his own writings he declares to praying 100s of times a day and night repenting of his childish ways. After six years under an earthly master, his heavenly master calls upon him in a dream. He is told that a ship is waiting for him and he needs to run for freedom. 200 miles and days later he finds a ship at harbor and is brought back home to Britian. But upon his return God calls him again.
This time God tells him to go back to Ireland and save the people who captured him. Unlike Jonah, Patrick heeds to this call and becomes a Christ-like figure to the barbarians of Ireland. His story is unbelieavble, yet happened and evidence is still seen today. A country who had never heard of a loving, self-sacrificing God got to see his traits with their very eyes through Patrick. I encourage you to read more about him and his story.
I tell you of these two people to ask, who will you be? Will you be Jonah, full of hatred, so much so that you cannot trust God? Will you see God’s work and mercy in action and cry out in disatisfaction? Will God have to throw you into a treacherous trial to perform what he asks or you?
Or will you be Patrick, grateful to be alive and know that your Savior loves you? Will you heed God’s call and run towards your enemies? Will you save those who destroyed you? Will you be joyous at the work of God and his mercy towards those who persecute you?
I know many times in my life I have been Jonah. It is our natural tendency to fall into his steps. But my prayer for myself and for you is to be Patrick. I want you to overcome life’s difficulties by leaning on God’s grace and love. People will hurt and disappoint us, but it is our duty to obey and trust God. For he will never hurt or dissapoint. He is faithful to you, if you are faithful to Him. Let not your pride make you stumble, but humble yourself before God and know that you are no better than your enemy. For each of you is human, full of sin and in need of God’s great mercy.