A Little Streak of Jonah

A Little Streak of Jonah

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“Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?” 

 –The LORD to the prophet Jonah, Jonah 4:11 NLT


God loves cities. Cities are hubs of commerce and culture, but more than that they are home to a beautifully diverse collection of human beings made in the image of God. Cities are places where hurting and broken people huddle together to survive. God loves cities because they are full of lots of people in need of Good News. At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus said:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for He has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.
Luke 4:18-19 NLT

The heart of Jesus is consumed with passion for the poor, the captive, the blind, and the oppressed. As followers of Jesus, we share the privileged responsibility of participating in His passion for people. But, with a little twisting and spiritualizing of Jesus’ words, it is not too hard to convince ourselves that Jesus must have been speaking about someone else. You know what I mean, people who deserve mercy. Isn’t it easier to blame the poor for their plight, to accuse them of not capitalizing on the “equal” opportunity they had for an education? It is easier on my conscience to accuse the captive for not using common sense about her whereabouts, to wonder whether blindness was due to some heinous sin, to assume the oppressed did something to deserve it. Fortunately, the Lord cuts through my nonsense and reminds me, “No Aaron. I actually mean what I said. I came to bring Good News to poor, broken, hurting, sinful people. Poor people who are struggling to survive in the city. Hurting people who have been abused by those more powerful. Wicked and sinful people, like you Aaron.”

You see, sometimes I get a little streak of Jonah in me. Jonah was a prophet sent by God to Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria, the enemy of his home country. Assyria was a cruel and wicked place. God sent Jonah to call them to change and turn from their ways. Jonah was incensed that the Lord would ask him to do such a thing and so he ran the other direction. With a little help from a giant fish, God put Jonah back on his way. Jonah went to Nineveh, announced God’s judgment, and to his amazement, Nineveh repented. Most preachers would be humbled by an entire city’s response to a sermon. Jonah was angry. He wanted Nineveh to experience God’s judgment, not His mercy.

Sometimes my heart looks like Jonah’s. Recently, I had to choose where I would go to start a new church. I had multiple choices all over the United States, and York City consistently was on the bottom of my list. Sadly, my reasons were terrible. York had too many needy people with too many problems, I told myself. Other larger cities were sexier choices, opportunities for me to shine and make a name for myself. Church planting in York might be a hassle with little accolade. It wasn’t that I didn’t want people in York City to experience grace, just that I was afraid of the personal cost and inconvenience. Fortunately, the Gospel is changing the Jonah in me. I’m learning that my stuff isn’t that great, that I focus too much on myself. I deserve justice for my arrogance and lack of concern for people that God loves; Christ offers grace. Like the ancient city of Nineveh, God has a special concern for York City. I love York City, not because I see it as a personal project or a place to pity, but because it is a great city with special people. York City is my home. And yes, I get insulted when people call it the “black hole of York County,” or joke about how you need to speed through the city to avoid getting mugged. If I’ve learned anything from Jonah it is that God loves to lavish His grace on cities. So be careful how you talk about the City.

 For the Gospel and the City,

Aaron

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