Today is Yom Kippur. The most holy day in the Hebrew calendar.
Traditionally on this Day of Atonement the story of Jonah is read.
In it the Lord charges this little known prophet to travel to the wicked city of Nineveh and there to rebuke its inhabitants for their evil ways and to inform them that judgment will come in 40 days.
While God says ‘Go!’ Jonah says ‘No!’ and he seeks to avoid what he has been commanded to do by running in the opposite direction. He boards a ship to Tarshish in Spain but when a fierce gale threatens to capsize the boat, while everybody else is praying for salvation, Jonah retreats to his cabin knowing that it’s him that God is pursuing.
Having asked himself searching questions, Jonah eventually confesses his guilt and urges the sailors to throw him overboard. Reluctantly they oblige and the sea is made calm. After three days in the depths of the sea, Jonah is rescued, resurrected as it were, and recommissioned to fulfil his responsibility of proclaiming God’s urgent message of repentance. Amazingly, astonishingly, Nineveh responds and the people there are also saved. But instead of being glad, as we might anticipate, Jonah is profoundly sad and laments that because God is forgiving, it makes him look foolish when his warning of impending judgement is negated.
God responds to Jonah by saying that every human being is eternally precious to him. Just as each one of us appreciates an infinite number of chances for forgiveness ourselves, so ought we not wish the same for all humanity?
The question is, why is this story of all narratives chosen to be read on this most holy day of salvation, Yom Kippur?
Jewish sages have offered these suggestions:
1.Everything in the world belongs to the Lord, yet human beings, alone of all God’s creatures have the choice either to respond to Him rebelliously or in repentance.
2. Who am I? What are my fears? What am I running from & Where am I going? These are vital questions ,not only for Jonah but also for each one of us.
And Thirdly and most profoundly:-
3.God is an atoning and saving God. If The Lord can pursue Jonah in his disobedience and if God can have mercy on Nineveh in all its wickedness, might he not also be concerned to forgive even you? Shalom.