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Below are the readings for the Third Sunday after Epiphany, January 24, 2021.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

After having been in the belly of the whale for three days for refusing to preach to the Gentiles at Nineveh, Jonah was washed up on land. God gave him a second chance to carry out His command. A humbled Jonah obeyed this time. Matthew Henry’s commentary has an excellent exposition on Nineveh — it was the largest city in the Ancient World at that time, positively massive. It is unfortunate that the Lectionary editors left out the part where the king of the city helped greatly by declaring a royal decree to don not only sackcloth and ashes but also fast. He also abided by that decree. I have included the missing verses (highlighted in purple). The irony with this story is that God gave Israel many prophets, who were persecuted and ignored, yet, this pagan city and its king repented immediately with one visit from Jonah.

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

3:1 The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, saying,

3:2 “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.”

3:3 So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across.

3:4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”

3:5 And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

The word reached[a] the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.

And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water,

but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.

9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”

3:10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

Psalm

In this Psalm, David confidently proclaims his trust in the Lord.

Psalm 62:5-12

62:5 For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.

62:6 He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

62:7 On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.

62:8 Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah

62:9 Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.

62:10 Put no confidence in extortion, and set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.

62:11 Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God,

62:12 and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord. For you repay to all according to their work.

Epistle

1 Corinthians 7 is about Christian marriage. That said, Paul takes great pains to point out that marriage is but a temporal state and that we should always have our hearts and minds on the world to come, our home in Heaven.

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

7:29 I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none,

7:30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions,

7:31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

Gospel

Last week’s reading from John described how Jesus called Philip and Nathanael to be His disciples. In today’s reading from Mark, Jesus calls two more sets of brothers to join him: Simon Peter and Andrew as well as John (the Gospel writer) and James, the sons of Zebedee. John in verse 14 is John the Baptist.

Mark 1:14-20

1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,

1:15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

1:16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea–for they were fishermen.

1:17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

1:18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

1:19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets.

1:20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

I still prefer ‘fishers of men’ (verse 17), which actually includes both sexes, but we are not allowed that usage anymore.

Have a blessed Sunday.

Below are the readings for the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity, September 20, 2020.

These are for Year A in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

There are two choices for the first reading and Psalm.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading and Psalm — Option One

Readings about Moses continue. This is the account of manna from Heaven for the hungry Israelites.

Exodus 16:2-15

16:2 The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.

16:3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

16:4 Then the LORD said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not.

16:5 On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.”

16:6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt,

16:7 and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your complaining against the LORD. For what are we, that you complain against us?”

16:8 And Moses said, “When the LORD gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the LORD has heard the complaining that you utter against him–what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the LORD.”

16:9 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the LORD, for he has heard your complaining.'”

16:10 And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.

16:11 The LORD spoke to Moses and said,

16:12 “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.'”

16:13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp.

16:14 When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground.

16:15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.

In calling upon all faithful to give thanks to the Lord, the Psalm makes reference to the reading above to other events in the exodus from Egypt.

Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45

105:1 O give thanks to the LORD, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples.

105:2 Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wonderful works.

105:3 Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.

105:4 Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually.

105:5 Remember the wonderful works he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered,

105:6 O offspring of his servant Abraham, children of Jacob, his chosen ones.

105:37 Then he brought Israel out with silver and gold, and there was no one among their tribes who stumbled.

105:38 Egypt was glad when they departed, for dread of them had fallen upon it.

105:39 He spread a cloud for a covering, and fire to give light by night.

105:40 They asked, and he brought quails, and gave them food from heaven in abundance.

105:41 He opened the rock, and water gushed out; it flowed through the desert like a river.

105:42 For he remembered his holy promise, and Abraham, his servant.

105:43 So he brought his people out with joy, his chosen ones with singing.

105:44 He gave them the lands of the nations, and they took possession of the wealth of the peoples,

105:45 that they might keep his statutes and observe his laws. Praise the LORD!

First reading and Psalm — Option Two

After releasing Jonah from the belly of the great fish, God pressed on with His continuing mission of getting Jonah to preach to the people of Nineveh, who were Gentiles. Jonah found this commission repulsive, which is why he resisted so strongly. The people of Nineveh were more repentant than the people of Israel at that time.

Jonah 3:10-4:11

3:10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

4:1 But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry.

4:2 He prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.

4:3 And now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

4:4 And the LORD said, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

4:5 Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.

4:6 The LORD God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush.

4:7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered.

4:8 When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

4:9 But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.”

4:10 Then the LORD said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night.

4:11 And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

We have another excerpt from the first of the Praise Psalms (145-150). David wrote this to encourage us to praise the Lord.

Psalm 145:1-8

145:1 I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever.

145:2 Every day I will bless you, and praise your name forever and ever.

145:3 Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; his greatness is unsearchable.

145:4 One generation shall laud your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.

145:5 On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.

145:6 The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed, and I will declare your greatness.

145:7 They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness, and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.

145:8 The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

Epistle

Having finished with readings from the Book of Romans, we turn to the beginning of Paul’s letter to the people of Philippi in Macedonia, named for the great King Philip of Macedon. Paul had a great affection for the Philippians. He wrote this from prison in Rome, in AD 62.

Philippians 1:21-30

1:21 For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.

1:22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer.

1:23 I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better;

1:24 but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.

1:25 Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith,

1:26 so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.

1:27 Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel,

1:28 and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing.

1:29 For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well

1:30 since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

Gospel

Readings from Matthew continue. Last week’s reading was the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. Today’s is the Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard, an analogy for those who come to the faith late in life. God treasures those souls as much as he does those who have obeyed Him since their childhood.

Matthew 20:1-16

20:1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.

20:2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.

20:3 When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace;

20:4 and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

20:5 When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same.

20:6 And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’

20:7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’

20:8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’

20:9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.

20:10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage.

20:11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner,

20:12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’

20:13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?

20:14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you.

20:15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

20:16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

May everyone reading this have a blessed Sunday and a good week ahead.

Throughout history, man has sought ‘signs’ and ‘proof’.  This is also true of some people in the Bible.  Their faith was, at times, weak.  Sometimes they just weren’t listening to God’s or Jesus’s direction.  Today, we also get caught up in this way of thinking: ‘If only there were a sign’ or ‘Seeing is believing’. Yet, Scripture warns us of the dangers inherent in seeking signs, which are often of our own making.

Today’s Forbidden Bible Verses are not available in any lectionary.  Our reading comes from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Matthew 16:1-12

The Pharisees and Sadducees Demand Signs

 1And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. 2He answered them,”When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ 3And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4 An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.

The Leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees

5When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. 6Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 7And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” 8But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? 9 Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 11How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. 

—————————————————

The Pharisees and Sadducees meet with Jesus to see if He has their powers of observation and prediction (verse 1).  If He is who He says, then, they reason, surely He can show us a heavenly sign, a portent.  Jesus knows what these men are after and refuses to give them what they want. He knows that they are not asking out of naiveté or innocence. He acknowledges their intelligence in reading the heavens and predicting the weather (verse 2).  Today, that maxim would be ‘Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky at morning, sailor, take warning’.  Jesus rebukes these wise men of their time for being able to predict what happens in the material world (verse 3), yet that wisdom is incapable of reading not only what is in men’s hearts but just who Jesus Himself is — the long-awaited and prophesied Messiah. How could they not recognise Him by all the miracles He had performed? How could they have the audacity to ask not only for a sign but for a specific one — from Heaven, no less?  Jesus adds that only the ‘evil and adulterous’ [unfaithful to God in their worldliness] would ask for such a manifestation (verse 4).  He states that they will receive nothing more than the sign given to Jonah — in short, ‘repent or die’.  Jesus, no doubt irritated with the conversation and with these perceived paragons of wisdom, made his excuses and left. 

A word about the Pharisees and the Sadducees before going further.  The Pharisees were experts in Mosaic Law and legalism.  As a result, they were also self-righteous and often attached more importance to legal observance than to Scripture.  They were powerful men in society and eager to make converts.  People sought their opinion and respected their learned minds.  Think of today’s experts we see on television — the Pharisees were similar.  ‘Oh, he went to Harvard — he knows what he’s talking about.’ ‘She has a degree from Oxford — why doubt what she’s saying?’

The Sadducees were free-thinking rationalists who used the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament — written by Moses) on which to base their judgments.  If a belief was too airy-fairy — angels, for one — they dismissed them either through ridicule or posing questions asking for proof or for a display of logic behind such a belief.  So, although they were religious Jews, they would not be dissimilar to some of today’s secularists — asking for a neatly factual answer to a difficult question of faith.     

The sign of Jonah which Jesus cites in verse 4, may refer to two of the prophet’s experiences.  Most of us know that Jonah lived in the belly of the whale for three days until he repented of his sin of disobedience and once again found favour in God’s sight.  Imagine the darkness, the terror, the separation from God that Jonah — all alone — endured.  Would he make it out alive?  He prayed that God would forgive his disobedience. God forgave Jonah because he was correcting the prophet’s nature.  He wanted to put Jonah to use once again to His purposes. Once on dry land, Jonah immediately turned his life around and became obedient to God.  But, Jonah had a second sign when the Lord commanded him to preach to the people of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria.  The Assyrians were powerful enemies of Jonah’s people of Israel.  So, Jonah obeyed the Lord and told the city to repent of their ways. Soon, Jonah wondered why he was giving aid to the enemy.  They already had physical strength, why should they also find favour with God?  Jonah decided he wouldn’t preach any more and sat down in the shade under a large gourd with leaves, similar to a tree.  God sent a worm to infest the gourd and cause it to wither.  Jonah ended up in the heat with no shelter.  After an angry exchange with God, Jonah obeys Him and resumes his work with the people of Nineveh.  Bottom line: disobey God and suffer the consequences; obey and find favour in His sight!    

Back to the Gospel passage.  The disciples discover they have no bread (verse 5).  Jesus tells them in so many words (verse 6), ‘Never mind a loaf of bread, what about the yeast of the Sadducees and Pharisees?  Pay attention to that instead!’  The disciples don’t understand (verse 7).  Jesus upbraids them for their lack of faith (verse 8), as if to say, ‘Who said anything about a loaf of bread?  Don’t worry about it!  Haven’t we fed the multitudes before now?  Where is your faith?’ Again, in verse 11, Jesus says, ‘Worry about what these guys are teaching — it goes against God, My teachings and Scripture!’  Verse 12 tells us that the disciples finally grasp what He is telling them. 

Error is so widespread — the call for signs, the one-upmanship of debate about faith, the demands for proof.  ‘Show me’, ‘Where is it written’, ‘You haven’t answered my question’, ‘It’s not logical’.  We do much the same today.  And it doesn’t take a lot for us to doubt the Word, overanalyse our faith, wonder if our beliefs are wrong or decide how we can make Christianity palatable to our culture.  We also fall into the trap of thinking that God must be tangibly present in our world. Some churchgoers and ministers say, ‘The Holy Spirit was with us — we spoke in tongues’ or ‘God came to me in a dream’ or ‘The Lord appeared before me and spun me around in my bedroom’. (The last one is paraphrased from a popular Christian book.)  Beware! 

Instead, we would do well to focus on humbly praying to God, repenting of our sins, reading the Bible and obeying His will.        

For further reading:

Matthew Henry’s Commentary

J C Ryle’s ‘Warning No. 4 to the Church

John MacArthur on Jonah: ‘The Tragedy of an Unwilling Missionary

Msgr Charles Pope: ‘What is the Sign of Jonah and Has It Come upon Us?

Charles H Spurgeon: ‘Jonah’s Object Lessons

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