“Saints: God’s Peculiar Treasures”
Jonah 1:1-2:2, 10; 3:1-5, 10 And Matthew 12:38-42
All Saints Sunday
Our Old Testament lesson for this coming weekend is an amazing story about a reluctant and cynical saint (“Did I say saint?!”), called by God to be a prophet … (“Ah, that’s where the sainthood comes from.”). His name is Jonah. You remember: the guy who was swallowed by a whale? … His fire ‘n brimstone sermon, the shortest in the Bible (Jonah 3:4b), perhaps “burns” Jonah even more than the folks whom God calls to repentance. The aforementioned folks are the dreaded terrorists of Jonah’s time: the Ninevites. One of Jonah’s fellow prophets describes the their Assyrian Empire as “bloody … all full of lies and booty – no end to their plunder” (Nahum 3:1). HOWEVER, upon hearing God’s Word through the prophet, Jonah … they immediately repent in “sack cloth and ashes” … all the way until the very cows “came home”! (Jonah 3:5-9).
If you listen carefully, you’ll come to hear that the book of Jonah is a humorous sort of story, and the joke seems to be on those who think that God’s love and grace are reserved only for the chosen people of God. (As you heard the rebuttal last Sunday: “But hey! We’re descendants of Abraham after all.” John 8:33) It’s a story that suggests that God is One and that the One God is God also of those whom “we” – the church – often exclude by our definitions of who’s “in” and who’s “out” with God. Anyone looking at their navels yet? How peculiar are we, those baptized into Christ, looking for-all-the-world to be a bunch of self-centered misfits; yet called by God to be his earthen vessels (some of us more cracked than others!) that carry his Word of peace and hope for the world. Peculiar treasures, we saints.
But then again, as we hear the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday … we realize that what is defining is the treasure we carry (see II Corinthians 4:7). “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.’ But he answered them, [going back full circle to our Old Testament reading] “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign; but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah” (Matthew 12:38-39). In a world, as the famous song lyric of the 60s observes, full of the sensational …“Sign, sign, everywhere a sign” … what is this sign that Jesus is referring to? (j.r. christopherson)