Jonah 3:1-5, 10
God spoke to Jonah again: “Get up and go to Vegas, that great city, and tell them what I told you.”
So, following God’s direction, Jonah got up and went to Vegas. (And indeed, Vegas was a huge city. It would take three days to walk from one end to the other.) And as Jonah started into the city, he started yelling, “In forty days, Las Vegas will be wiped out.” And the people of Las Vegas believed God and put on funeral clothes, from the Mayor all the way down to the street people.
When God saw their response, how they gave up their vices, God overturned God’s own decree, and decided not to destroy the city after all. And so, God didn’t.
Regardless of how it is often misused (a test case for adherence to a doctrine of Biblical inerrancy), Jonah is about deliverance, first, second, and third.
First, it’s about deliverance that comes to a ship of storm-tossed sailors.
Second, it’s about deliverance that comes to a faithless prophet.
Third, it’s about deliverance that comes to a city of wicked people.
In the Christian context, it is, Jesus says, the single sign a faithless generation will ever receive: no matter how far gone a person or a community is, deliverance is still possible.
There is only one requirement: willingness to repent: to do what doesn’t come naturally.
The whole story of Jonah is a parable. This part about Jonah’s arrival in Nineveh (Las Vegas) is an invitation to imagine yourself in two different positions. What if you’re Jonah? And what if you’re a Ninevite?
If you’re Jonah, the parable invites your reflection on what it means to be called to go to a place you don’t want to go, to a people you despise, taking a message nobody wants to hear, on the remote chance that instead of running you out of town they will be delivered. Your job, Jonah, is to announce the truth that might be in order to set in motion a better alternative: deliverance.
If you’re a Ninevite, the parable invites your reflection on what it means to realize the futility of your current path, and what it will take to change it. How will you realize the deliverance that is available to you, even in your far-gone state?
Any given community might find itself in either of these positions, or both: so far gone that it seems impossible to take an unwanted message to a “depraved” society. (Sounds like a lot of churches I know of.) In any case, the deliverance of the two go together. Deliverance takes embracing the prophet and the society simultaneously.
Did it really happen? Not likely. But the point isn’t whether or not it did. The point is that, hearing it, you’ll make deliverance a reality here and now.