As we heard in the previous post, the funny story of Jonah ends with a sharp question hanging in the air: “Shouldn’t God care about all the parts of creation that have lost their way?” And the answer to that question has everything to do with how well we - the listeners to Jonah’s story - how well we recognize and respond to the signs of the time, the signals that God is giving to us. Where is God inviting us to join His life-giving work in the world? What are we supposed to be looking for, and when we see it, what are we supposed to do? The irony, of course, is that Jonah represents the entire people of ancient of Israel. They were called to be a blessing to all the nations of the earth (Gen. 12). That’s God’s promise to Abraham from the beginning: through you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed. Like Jonah, they were given the Word of God at Mt. Sinai and they were called to turn from their evil ways… But time, after time, they do their own thing, they run away from God - and they don’t seem to have even the smallest concern for blessing the people of the earth.
And the sharp question hanging in the air for this ancient people who knew they were called to share God’s blessing; the question for them was this: What is this God going to do if we don’t respond to the signs, the signals, and the words that God has given us? What’s God going to do to us (if we don’t get on board and go the right way), and what’s God going to do for the world (if we’re not the ones who are sharing His blessing)
These are the questions our Gospels are designed to answer. Our first sign is that wild prophet in the desert who’s calling people (again!) to get rid of their evil and violence: Turn back to God. The second sign is when that message gets him thrown in jail. And when that happens we hear, “After John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news'” (Mk. 1.14-15).
And if we have the story of Jonah ringing in our ears, we realize that his message isn’t all that different from the message God had for Nineveh. Because the Gospels are going to show us that it doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about a “far away” place like Nineveh, or our own backyard, God is calling every part of creation back to Himself through Jesus. That’s where God’s blessing is found.
Jesus himself becomes the sign of the times; the signal and the Word of God that matters more than anything else. It’s the reason we’ve been telling his story for 2,000 years. Because no matter what else is happening in our world - from debates about immigration to natural disasters, from an economic crash to military campaigns - Christians have always believed that the sign and signal that matters most is God’s revelation in Jesus. And whether we turn to the right or the left Jesus is that voice behind us saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” It’s not because we have a set of answers to every question, but because Jesus is the person we’re called to follow. That’s how the Gospels work. They don’t give us a list of answers, they introduce us to a person. And we believe this person, Jesus, is the face of God.
Yes, we should care deeply about the issues of our day. Issues like immigration matter. They say something about who we are and how we treat others, and God has some expectations about that. But our best contribution to this debate - or any other - isn’t going to happen by looking at the cost/benefit impact of immigration (important as that is). It’s also not going to happen by pulling a few verses from different parts of the Bible that tell us the right “answer”. It’s going to happen as we learn to do what the disciples did: “Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me….’ And immediately they left their nets and followed,” (Mk. 1.17-18).
What are we supposed to be looking for? What are the signs of the time that we're supposed to see? In every situation Christians are supposed to be looking for the way we can share God’s blessing through Jesus. The sign we’re looking for is the life of Jesus in middle of our world’s suffering, struggles, and debates. We’re supposed to share God’s blessing - just like Jonah, just like the people of ancient Israel. It happens as we hear the Scriptures, as we feed on the Eucharist, and as we pray for God’s Spirit to fill us. As we participate in these things, we begin to look more like Jesus in the world.
And the question that’s left hanging for us today is this: now that we’ve heard God’s word and we’ve seen God’s sign, how can we go and share God’s blessing to every part of creation? Amen.