When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.
When the king of Nineveh heard that Jonah was walking through his city urging his subjects to repent, he had choices. First of all, he could have been jealous. He could have dwelt on the fact that God did not give this warning to him, the King. His authority was bypassed and his people were listening to outsiders. He could have let his jealousy guide his actions and issued a decree against Jonah’s credibility. Alternatively, he could have been doubtful. He could have questioned the source of Jonah’s words, and demanded proof for his statements. He could have reasoned about the warning and found it to be unlikely. Finally, he could have felt defeated. Jonah warned Nineveh that they would soon be overthrown. It would be easy for the king to sit back and say, “there is nothing I can do.” He could have realized the low probability of changing the course of the future, and instead succumb to the inevitable.
But instead of allowing jealousy to take over his ego, he drew from his faith. Instead of allowing doubt to cloud his vision, or allowing defeat to cripple his actions, he let his faith guide him forward. And as a result, his city and his people were spared.
In a nuanced and modern world it is hard to put aside our desire for proof, justification, and assurances for something like faith. It seems easier to explain to ourselves that faith existed long ago when choices were simpler and more clear-cut. The king of Nineveh helps us realize that the stakes on faith have always been high. Our emotional pulls have always been strong. Just as Jesus reminds us with Thomas, “Blessed are those who did not see, and yet believed.”
Appointed readings for today: Jonah 3:1-10, Psalm 51:11-18, Luke 11:29-32