Three Readings – The Task and the Pitfalls

Evening Readings for October 13th

A fascinating connection between the three readings for this evening: Psalm 35;  Jonah 1:1-17 and Matthew 10:16-23.

In the Gospel reading we have Jesus giving instructions to the Twelve regarding the mission which lies before them. I am sending you out like sheep among the wolves. Of course the message of the Gospel is not easily received by the world. This morning I was listening to a Christian speaker on Vision FM about just this topic. The world wants the kind and merciful God and will have nothing to do with judgement. Many claim to believe in God and even in Christ but when push comes to shove, they want God on their own terms. They want to be able to live their lives just the way they like but still want God to love them and bless them. But Jesus says different – Be on your guard, yet I will give you the words; you will be persecuted but hold fast, there is much work to do.

We often limit that work just to speaking out about our convictions about Jesus, but the truth is that there is much more. (We have to live them!) Jonah found that out pretty quickly. He didn’t want to go to Nineveh, he jumped a ship heading in the opposite direction. Didn’t help him much though. There is much work to do and you must hold fast despite the persecution and opposition. Do you get the point? Jonah didn’t want to go because the work was too hard – he didn’t figure that a message of judgement would win him too many friends.

But look what happened? I just love the words in Jonah 1:10 – What HAVE YOU done! And it wasn’t about doing something wrong ie running away from the Lord – they knew that in parenthesis! NO! This shocked surprise is because Jonah would even dare to avoid what God wants him to do – and this from a boat full of unbelievers. The world knows the right thing, they just can’t get themselves to do it. But they believe that believers should do it. Interesting point. But in the world we believers also struggle. We shouldn’t but we do – or at least I do. (And so, by the way, does St Paul – For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. (Ro 7:19) What a wretched man I am!) And this is the point of Psalm 35 – read it. Although it is about King David and his enemies we can also see it as the struggle we have against sin and temptation in the world. The Evil one is our enemy – he offers us salvation through the world’s ways – I am your salvation! but he actually seeks our ruin. At the end of the psalm, David gets it right when he says to the Lord- I will speak of your righteousness and of your praise all day long.

Back to Jonah. He has a task – to bring the message of God’s judgement to Nineveh. He doesn’t want to do it – not because its a hard message but … and listen to this (Jonah 4:2) because he knew that the Lord is a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. He KNEW the grace of God! “What have you done!” declared the sailors. He knew the grace but he held back because he wanted the wrath to prevail. Oh man! What kind of sin is this!!! Jonah wanted to preach judgement but he also wanted to withhold the grace. We cannot DO that. God is God, and God will do what God will do. Our task is neither to preach judgement without grace, nor grace without judgement. We go as sheep amongst the wolves with a message which damns the sinner on one hand and offers salvation on the other. We have a message which calls to repentance and we cannot offer it if we have not been there ourselves, and we cannot offer it without both hands spread wide.

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