First Reading: Jonah 3:1-5,10

Jonah's Mission

1 The word of YHWH came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I give you."

3 So Jonah arose, and went to Nineveh, according to the word of YHWH. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days' journey across. 4 Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey, and he cried out, and said, "In forty days, Nineveh will be overthrown!"

5 The people of Nineveh believed God; and they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from their greatest even to their least.

10 God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way. God relented of the disaster which he said he would do to them, and he didn't do it.

World English Bible

[1] A century before the Babylonian exile, the northern kingdom of Israel was swept off the face of the earth by the ruthless Assyrians. Nineveh was the Assyrian capitol. The Israelites of the north were taken into captivity or intermarried with the Assyrians and adopted their pagan culture. The resulting religion of the area was questioned by the Jews. The area became known as Samaria, named after a city in the province.

The book of Jonah was written about the fifth century B.C. when the Jews returned home from the Babylonian exile. The Jews, seeing the destruction of Jerusalem, despaired and became withdrawn. The Jews began to dissociate themselves from their pagan neighbors. They saw themselves in exclusive terms ("The Chosen People") and the other nations as unclean.

The book of Jonah stood that belief on its ear. God commanded Jonah not only to mingle with these barbarians, but to become a prophet in their own capitol city. Like the Jews in the fifth century B.C., Jonah was skeptical and cynical of his mission.

[2] When the author refers to the Assyrians, the words "great" and "large" used several times. This follows the Semite tradition of exaggeration to make a point. Yes, the enemy was powerful, but the God of the Jews was all-powerful.

[4-5] Jonah does not even complete the mission, but only preached for one day. But, to Jonah's surprise, one day was enough. The Assyrians took the message to heart and believed.

[10] While it is not part of the reading, Jonah went outside the city and waited for the coming of God's wrath on the city. Yet, God relented because the Assyrians believed. Like many people, Jonah believed in God but not in other people, especially his enemies. The message of the story tells of the great mercy and love of God for everyone and the possibility of redemption.

Is our faith narrow like that of Jonah or can we see others through God's eyes?