Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The sign of the prodigal

As the crowds were increasing, He began to say, "This generation is a wicked generation; it seeks for a sign, and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. (Luke 11:29-30 NASB)

{I'm taking a little detour today because I found something important on the way from here to where I intended to go. We'll come back to this soon.}

To understand the sign of Jonah for the Ninevites, we need to understand the story of Jonah. (This is the Leanna paraphrase of his story) He was an ordinary man who was grumpy with God, openly rebellious, and had a judgmental, condemning spirit. He was a lot like us. (okay, me) Nineveh was sin city, wicked through and through. God spoke to Jonah. "I want you to go to Nineveh and cry against it, because the people are wicked through and through."  

This next part shouldn't surprise me, but it does, even though I've done the same thing before. I can speak with experience on Jonah's action. He didn't tell anyone God had called him to Nineveh. He didn't seek wise counsel on this move. He didn't discuss it with God or argue with him. Jonah said, "I'm not doing that," and he took a ship in the opposite direction. He headed as far away from Nineveh as he could go. 

Jonah became a prodigal. 

Jonah 1:3 makes me shake my head at his foolishness. Jonah knew when he bought his fare to Tarshish that he was trying to flee "from the presence of the Lord." Surely he knew that God was omnipotent and that he would never escape His presence. Regardless, he made a good try at escaping God. If you've ever tried to run from God's pursuit, you know how well that worked. It didn't work at all.

God didn't take well to Jonah's antics. "The Lord hurled a great wind on the sea." I have the mental image of a major league pitcher winding up, leaning back, and hurling a fast ball at the batter as hard as he can throw. God hurled the wind and whipped up a storm. 

The sailors, who were professional sailors and not usually terrified out of their minds at a storm, were terrified out of their minds at this storm. They knew it was extraordinary and that they were about to die. First, they cried out to their gods to save them. When their gods didn't help, they started throwing the cargo overboard to lighten the load. 

Finally, someone noticed that Jonah was missing. The captain found him, asleep in the hold, peacefully thinking that he was escaping from God. The captain couldn't believe it. "We're about to drown and you're sleeping? Get up and ask your God to save us. No one else's god has been any help at all." I can imagine that Jonah thought, "No way am I talking to God about this." When you are a rebellious prodigal, the last thing you want to do is talk to God about anything, even if you might save your life in the process. (Being a prodigal is a foolish thing on many levels.) 

The sailors decided to find out who was to blame for the calamity. They cast lots and Jonah got the blame. This frightened the sailors because Jonah had already told them he was fleeing from God. These pagan sailors thought, "This man is running from his God and his rebellion is about to cost us our lives." They were right. 

What we never seem to realize is that our time in the "far country" as a prodigal affects more than just ourselves. When we choose to go our own way, to seek our own pleasure, there is fallout. People are endangered by our rebellion and wounded by our choices. Those wounds can be far reaching and long lasting. They don't just go away because we wish it. Saying I'm sorry doesn't make wounds evaporate. It might be easier if it did.

If we haven't had a time as a prodigal, we've probably been the older brother. You remember him. He was a stay-at-home prodigal. Openly obedient, he was inwardly rebellious and angry. Even when we are not actively rebelling against God, we can have those prodigal moments when we think, "No. I'm not doing that, God. I'm not making a spectacle of myself. I'm not forgiving him. I'm not serving her. I'm not..." Those prodigal moments, if allowed to continue, can have devastating results, as Jonah can attest.

For today, let's stop here and consider our bent towards being a prodigal. We've all done it, and some of us have more fallout from out choices than others. Let's ask God to show us the consequences of our decisions and actions in the lives of those we love. 

There's mercy and grace available for all of this, but sometimes we need to "own" our choice and it's result so that God can bring healing. It's what Jonah did. The sailors said, "Jonah, this is your fault," and Jonah said, "Yes. It is." What God did with that confession is truly remarkable. Today, let's do some "Yes, it is" of our own. Confess our own failings and ask God to do something truly remarkable with our failure. Jonah's story changed with that admission and ours will, too.