Jonah 3:1-10 (NRSVCE)
After having been swallowed by a fish for disobeying God, Jonah seems much more amenable this time around. Now when God tells him to go to Nineveh, he doesn’t hesitate. A massive city even by today’s standards, Nineveh was the largest city in the world in its prime—a testament to the power of man. And it fell to Jonah to bring the news to the city. Nineveh would fall, and it would fall at God’s hand.
We’re not told how the people responded, really, or how long it took. Only that, eventually, they believed Jonah. I imagine a man coming to a city proclaiming that “the end is nigh” garnered about as much reaction back in Jonah’s day as it does now. I imagine for a long time, Jonah was ignored, mocked, chastised, perhaps even assaulted. I imagine they tried to run him out of town just to shut him up, probably more than once. But I wonder, who was that first Ninevite who stopped? While everyone else was brushing on past Jonah, eyes probably glued to their iPhones for fear that if they make eye contact they will have to engage, one person stopped and listened. Someone else saw the first person stop, and so she stopped to listen too. And then another. And another. Until eventually, all the city was listening. Just moments before, it was clear to all that these were just the wild ravings of a madman, perhaps worthy of scorn but almost certainly not worthy of being taken seriously. But because just one person listened, because just one person stopped, what seemed like ravings was suddenly revealed to be truth. And because the truth was finally made known to the people, the city was converted, and it was saved.
I wonder how many times God has sent a Jonah into my own life. How many times has he sent someone to try turn me from my wickedness? Someone to proclaim the truth, so that I might be saved? And how many times have I ignored that person? How many times have I met that person with scorn, with mockery, with disdain?
The hero of this story is not Jonah, the one who proclaimed the truth to the people. The hero is the first Ninevite who listened. It is the first one who was willing to accept the truth which was being proclaimed. The truth that God gives to us acts like a seed. Once received, it grows, and it spreads. This Ninevite received the truth, and because of that others began to listen as well. God didn’t change his mind about destroying the city because Jonah proclaimed His message. God changed his mind because they listened. That is our task: to open our hearts and listen, so that we might receive the truth that is being proclaimed to us.