Tuesday 29th October
The State We’re In…A Global Britain?
Jonah 3: 1-10, 4: 1-5
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, ‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’ 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. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: ‘By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.’ 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.
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. But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. 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. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’ And the Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’ 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.
Jesus talks in the Gospels of ‘the sign of Jonah’, and how the three days in the whale might be compared to the three in the tomb. The other aspect of the ‘sign’ concerns the Ninevans – seemingly oblivious of Jonah’s intra-cetacean transportation. For me, the “Sign of Jonah” is, therefore, that Nineveh took notice and embraced change without first having to experience disaster. Indeed, without any need for religious conversion, or a detailed fact-check.
Would that my ministry as environmental chaplain could be blessed with such an impact: change, from top to bottom, forestalling disaster. Not excluding animal life!
The strong prospect of the elimination of environmental regulations following Brexit has always been sufficient in itself for me to oppose the severing of ties which, perhaps, embarrass those who speak of a ‘global’ Britain, because they involve obligations to neighbours. Neighbours who might, in the lifetime of my grandparents, have been seen as enemies, or pathetic recipients of aid.
The prospect of global climate catastrophe makes a brutal mockery of any, and every, form of isolationism. In Christ, as throughout the Earth in which He has become incarnate, there is neither Scot nor English, Welsh nor French, Irish nor Hungarian. Neither European, nor African, neither American nor Asian…
The flip-side of the life-enriching variety of human culture is also, always, the tragedy of providing an excuse to disregard the voice of those thus rendered ‘foreign’. What is more foreign than the prophetic call for an end to the complacent status quo of endless exploitative growth or an end to our fossil fuel addiction?
Compared with the global damage already done, and the harm yet ‘in the pipeline’, the haggling over our relations with European neighbours is a triviality. And yet this smokescreen of identity politics has rendered us more alien to our own interests than were the Ninevites to the contemptuous mystical prophet, as presented with sharply biting humour in this satirically spiritual story.
Help us to love ourselves enough
to love our neighbour that much,
and the Earth we’re both made of
to finally take some notice
of the voice of the Earth
through the signs of our times.
(And your love in the fact of the warning.)
We pray for the sign of Jonah
The Rev’d David Coleman is chaplain to Eco-Congregations, Scotland