Daily reading: 28 February
Also, so many animals.
The daily readings throughout Lent 2020 are taken from the Christian Aid Ireland footprints journey.
And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?
- Jonah 4:11.
Jonah is a grand story of redemption and transformation, but it is critical that we carefully note the final words. The Lord’s final argument with the prophet is simple: why should he not have concern for 'great city of Nineveh in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people'? But not just people, other creatures too.
In chapter four of Jonah, the prophet has seen the most remarkable miracle. The citizens of Nineveh responded to a street preacher! He wished they hadn’t, for he is convinced they deserve judgement. God’s sovereignty is revealed to be inseparable from his mercy throughout this text. He has the power to raise up brutal cities and tear them down, he has the power to grow up leafy plants that can be used for shelter and he has the power to make them wither. But Jonah discovers that power is expressed through care; he is 'a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.'
This realisation fills Jonah with such misery that he declares in verse 3 that he would rather die than live faced with the prospect of such boundless mercy. His zeal for righteousness and his activism for the Lord was dependent on a pay off. He wanted to see that brutal city torn down. To see it transformed into an ally is too great a shock; it is a seismic trauma.
There is wisdom here for those of us invested in the movement for creation care. There are strategic and political reasons why we cannot allow our activism for environmental transformation to slide into an us-v-them scenario. But there is a more fundamental reason – moral, even metaphysical – why we must remain open to the transformation of the eco-villains. The reason is the many animals.
We will become exhausted and despairing if we allow our pilgrimage to descend into a crusade. God is righteous. No one will escape judgement for the carelessness or vindictiveness with which we have treated his good creation. But he is compassionate, he is slow to anger, he abounds in love and he relents from sending calamity. These are words in which we can rest.
God of compassion, in your sight cities, states, and economic systems rise and fall. In our age, we feel distress. We can easily despair. The powers-that-be appear beyond conversion. The cities and states and economic systems in which we are embroiled appear barbarous and murderous.
Save us from despondency. Open our hearts to the hope that change might come. Ground our love for your lovely world in the needs of the many animals and plants and human creatures that surround us.
We need your judgement, but remind us always that your judgement is a component of your salvation. Where we have turned from your way, help us to return and repent. Guide us with your light and truth through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Today's contributor is Kevin Hargaden. Kevin is the social theologian and team leader at the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice in Dublin. His research primarily focuses on economic and environmental ethics. He is an elder in Lucan Presbyterian Church.
Published on 28 February 2020