Lent Reflections @ CEC 2021 3/4/21
"During Lent, we surrender an idol that has assumed improper centrality in our lives, and then we watch as our souls shrink and groan when that idol is taken away. We understand with new clarity that our hearts are indeed ‘idol factories,’ and that we would be hopelessly self-destructive and broken had Christ not intervened.” — Sharon Hodde Miller
Scripture focus & Devotion: Jonah 1: 7-10
Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What do you do? Where do you come from? Where is your country? From what people are you? He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.” This terrified them, and they asked, “What have you done? (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.)
A great and mighty power
In Biblical times, the casting of lots was a common practice with several purposes, most of them involving fair and impartial decision-making, like the modern practices of flipping a coin or rolling dice to see who goes first when playing a game. Lots were also cast to determine the distribution of confiscated goods (such as when the Roman soldiers cast lots for Jesus’s clothing at his crucifixion) or to assign a potentially dangerous or particularly distasteful task, something akin to “drawing the short straw” in today’s terms.
In this passage from Jonah, the sailors cast lots as a method of divination, a superstitious way of appealing to supernatural forces in determining whose fault it was that their ship was in jeopardy. When the lot fell to Jonah as the guilty party, the crew peppered him with questions, trying to discover more about his identity and the reason for their perilous circumstances. Jonah told them that he was a Hebrew running away from the Lord who created the world and even the sea itself, which terrified the sailors because they realized that their lives were at the mercy of a great and mighty power, and that their suffering was the direct result of Jonah’s disobedience.
The sailors in the book of Jonah are not unlike us. When we find ourselves in dire straits, we often ask questions and seek answers to get us out of our predicament, never stopping to consider that perhaps our current circumstances are meant to accomplish a purpose in our lives or in the lives of others. Most of us would be much happier sailing along in calm seas, where the wind is a gentle breeze rather than a raging typhoon, even if God’s presence can be found in that very storm.
We like feeling safe, and yet, sometimes, a life dedicated to serving God requires that we give up our desire for comfort and security and go where he wants us to go, even if that means entering rough seas or, in Jonah’s case, being obedient to a task of ministry that we would rather not undertake. A footnote in my Life Application Bible makes the point that “You cannot seek God’s love and run from him at the same time.” In other words, we can’t find God by running - or sailing - in the opposite direction (but that doesn’t mean that he can’t find us)!
The story of Jonah reminds us that our God is a great and powerful god. Not only is he the Creator of our world - the sea and the land and all that is in them - but he is aware of what we do and why: our actions and the motivations behind them. There is nowhere to hide from his presence. But rather than being terrified by this knowledge as were Jonah’s shipmates, we can recognize that it is precisely because God loves humankind that he wants us to believe in him and to spread his message that forgiveness and reconciliation come with true repentance. That was the message that Jonah was supposed to take to the people of Nineveh; it was that same message that Jesus Christ came to manifest to the world.
Thank you for your grace, your love and forgiveness. Give us boldness to share that message with those around us.