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Woodcut style image of biblical Jonah inside a whale.

Jonah’s Story: Overcoming Fears and Prejudices to Serve Others

By Steve Webster, Mission Facilitator – Transforming Communities

The supermarket has often been the scene of many a toddler communicating their annoyance at their parent or guardian’s refusal to purchase a much-desired item of their choice. The crying, screaming, and yelling on the floor has often brought upon many a red face of embarrassment.  It’s a scene I’m sure many of us have seen or been on the receiving end of!

Jonah’s story reminds me a little of this scene. A reluctant individual “throwing the toys out of the cot” and initially refusing to do as he had been encouraged or asked. It’s not overly clear why he didn’t want to go. Some scholars say he feared what the Assyrian people would do to him and his people. Others speculate that he perhaps had his own prejudices and biases against them and didn’t want to go. But he eventually came to understand that God wanted him to help these people regardless of his personal feelings.

In this story, we see a few factors in play here for Jonah, but the question that was put before him was around his willingness to sacrifice what “he” wanted to do and to commit himself to the service of others, not knowing how he we are accepted or treated. At some point, he embraced this fear of the unknown but also the call from God and his own personal conviction within to serve God and give of himself to the people of Nineveh at this time.

Matthew 12:30-31 NIV says: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Let’s be honest; sometimes,” loving our neighbour” can be hard for many different reasons. As I reflect on this story and my own career, having served as an Ordained Church Minister and in government and not-for-profit sectors, I’ve always had that sense of God’s mission and vocation in the positions I’ve held. But this story is a good challenge for me to consider if there are people or situations I fear or prejudices or biases I have that I can reflect on and challenge myself to respond to God’s calling to love my neighbour as myself.   

The Uniting Church “statement to the nation” encourages us:

“We pledge ourselves to hope and work for a nation whose goals are not guided by self-interest alone, but by concern for the welfare of all persons everywhere — the family of the One God — the God made known in Jesus of Nazareth the One who gave His life for others.”

Let’s reflect on our fears, prejudices and biases and push past and through these and hear God’s call to continue to serve those most vulnerable and on the margins in our communities and society.

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