Loving Oneself in Nineveh

Twenty years since Paul Simon’s Rhythm of the Saints got a Grammy nomination. One-hundred fifty since Grant and the Union occupied Nashville, Tennessee. Multiple millennia since Jonah preached in Nineveh…

The people of Nineveh repented. (Luke 11:32)

The people of Nineveh repented. What sins had they committed?

To walk across the city of Nineveh took three days. How long would it take to walk from one end of New York City to the other? Or Los Angeles, or Mexico City? A couple of days anyway.

God told Jonah, “Should I not pity the great city, full of people who do not know their right hand from their left?”

The king of Nineveh heard Jonah’s warning and felt compunction in his heart; he felt the prick of conscience.

“I am not just,” he thought to himself. “I have run after comfort and wealth, and I do not know Thing One about my Maker. I have been a fool, chasing Doritos when the whole enchilada of divine love lay at my fingertips. Curse these robes I wear! Let me be truly honest for once in my life and grovel before God in the dust.”

The king, having been moved by God’s truth to love himself genuinely for the first time, loved his people also.

“My people have violence in hand! Our very way of life in this city entails violence. We race down our streets self-importantly in our chariots and leave the poor to bite our dust in the gutters. We do not care who winds up weeping in the shadows, so long as we can satisfy our lusts. We have twisted and perverted the truths of religion and managed to turn into a mockery the one thing that should stand as the foundation of our society and all our lives.”

Jonah himself had no desire to fulfill his mission to the Ninevites. He made the trip kicking and screaming. He felt no love for this foreign people and would personally have preferred to see them destroyed by fire and brimstone.

Jonah by Michelangelo

Maybe this is what made Jonah as convincing to the Ninevites as he was. “The message does not come from this man, who would prefer to be lounging on the beach rather than warning us about God. The warning must come from God Himself!”

God loved the Ninevites. The Ninevite king loved his people. The people loved themselves—again, genuinely loved themselves for the first time in their lives—and they listened.

“Yes, we deserve the threatened punishment. We have made a mess of this business—this business of living as the children of God that we are. We have filled our minds with nonsense and deafened ourselves with our own noise, when all the Lord was asking for was a listening ear. We deserve to be annihilated, because He made us out of nothing, and we have treated Him as if He were nothing.

“But may He have pity on us! If life meant separation from Him, then indeed it wouldn’t be worth living, and we would welcome annihilation. But now we see what life with Him could be: peaceful, honest, loving—wonderful. There is another way, a good life that differs altogether from the egotistic fantasies we have chased until now.”

O Lord, we are Yours! Have pity on us, and let us start fresh!

“When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, He repented of the evil He had threatened to do them, and He did not carry it out” (Jonah 3:10).

One thought on “Loving Oneself in Nineveh

  1. Father Mark,

    Nearly 20 years ago, I went to the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland to listen to a solo concert by Paul Simon. It rained cats and dogs throughout the concert; and the people under the roof invited those on the lawn to come up and sit with them (I can’t remember how, but it worked out; and it was a packed house to begin with — maybe it’s the loaves & fishes principle).

    He played about six different guitars (out of the 10 or 15 he had on stage with him). The audience cheered and cheered; and he did three encores. There are certain occurrences for which the adjective “consummate” applies. Paul Simon is a consummate musician.

    God doesn’t do things half-way; and those who are called in his plan can’t give it a lick and a promise either. Don’t believe me? Just ask Jonah.

    By the way, did you know that Grant drank? That Jonah complained? That the lion (above) just kept on coming, in spite of all the arrows (just like ol’ King Kong, in spite of the machine gun bullets)? That Michelangelo either drew one very small fish or totally lost his perspective (pun intended) for the fresco of Jonah for the Sistine Chapel ceiling? That when the Holy Spirit is working, the most unlikely person (or beastie) will do exactly what is needed to accomplish God’s purpose, and then fade back into obscurity.



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