Jonah 3:8a “But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth.”
One thing about Jonah’s story is extremely unusual, the fish notwithstanding: Jonah preaches on his first day (3:4), and it seems immediately everyone believes. Amazingly, everyone responds exactly how a prophet would hope they would respond, but never do.
The King of Nineveh repented. He tore his royal robes, wore sackcloth and sat down in the dust. Everyone – beasts, herds, flock included – began fasting. Even the animals are covered in sackcloth. I cannot think of a more complete, whole-hearted repentance than what we find in Jonah 3: Even the cattle repent.
This brings us back to an earlier theme: Insiders & Outsiders. Earlier, Jonah was callous and disobedient, while the pagan sailors did everything in their power to save his life. Now, the great enemies of Israel – the Capital City of Assyria – do not simply repent; no, they repent in such a way that puts the prophet’s example of repentance to shame. Jonah can’t even measure up to the cows. The unbelievers and animals are more open to God than the prophet.
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God can do whatever He wants. Yet it seems that typically He chooses to work with us rather than in spite of us. When we look at Jonah, may it be a reminder for sobering self-evaluation. In other words, if we want other people to be bold, are we bold ourselves? If we want to make disciples, are there areas in which we lack reconciliation? If we want other people to repent, what does confession look like in our own life?
When others see us, do they see the Christ in us that we hope to share? In the solitude of the virus season, may we ask the Lord what part of our soul needs sackcloth. It is not easy to have a sustained look at our blind spots. At our growth areas. But God delights in it. And as the Ninevites show us, it is fruitful indeed.
Kyrie eleison. “Lord have mercy.” Christ have mercy. Lord, have mercy upon us.