The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: "Set out for the great city of Nineveh, and announce to it the message that I will tell you." Jonah 3:1
The story of Jonah is one that I find to be both inspiring and endlessly entertaining. It is one of many examples of how unexpected salvation can be. While the whale is a good parable about how we ought not to run from God, the story of the whale is fruitless without Jonah actually going to Nineveh. To put a subtle point on the matter, the writer mentions that this was the second time that the LORD came to Jonah… because the first time didn’t take. So often that first time doesn’t take…
I was talking to a professor of mine last week about his class of undergrads. He was clearly frustrated about how his ethics class had gone, and I was curious as to why. He mentioned that the students had very little interest in helping strangers. This was quite disturbing to him because these students were all preparing to become teachers! The question of “what is the point?” was common among students. I think this question has become more and more common today. Why should we help strangers? Why should we give assistance to homeless? What did the poor do to deserve our help? What will people who are different from me do for me in return?
These questions and concerns are the same ones plaguing Jonah thousands of years ago. The answer is simple: the stranger deserves our help because he or she is a person. No more. No less. The Ninevites might have killed Jonah for just walking into their city, but they didn’t. Jonah may have saved them, only to have them turn around and destroy his own people, but they don’t. Fear is often present when facing the unknown, especially when it comes to facing unknown people. However, if we let fear govern, we will only find ourselves running from the good. Instead, let us be reluctant prophets like Jonah. For if we do not have reluctant prophets, we may not have any prophets at all.
Am I only comfortable doing good when it benefits me?
When have I found myself avoiding doing good because of fear?
In spite of my fears, what good can I do this Lent?