1st Reading, 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B:
In today’s reading, we learn how Jonah was sent to preach to the people of Nineveh, and by reforming them, to save them from the Lord’s destruction:
The word of the Lord was addressed to Jonah: ‘Up!’ he said ‘Go to Nineveh, the great city, and preach to them as I told you to.’ Jonah set out and went to Nineveh in obedience to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was a city great beyond compare: it took three days to cross it. Jonah went on into the city, making a day’s journey. He preached in these words, ‘Only forty days more and Nineveh is going to be destroyed.’ And the people of Nineveh believed in God; they proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least. God saw their efforts to renounce their evil behaviour. And God relented: he did not inflict on them the disaster which he had threatened.
Well – great. Terrific. But what, if anything, does this say to queer Christians? The key lies in seeing the greater context, the prequel. Jonah had not wanted to go to Nineveh, at all. He tried to resist the Lord’s command, and boarded a boat to sail away, in the opposite direction. But the Lord’s command is not so easily resisted, and after his familiar troubles at sea, he ended up washed ashore – on the coast of Nineveh. That is where today’s reading begins.
To Jonah, Nineveh was not just a foreign city, it was also the capital of the enemy, the Assyrian Empire. Entering it, he would have been a foreigner, an outsider, and could be expected to be met with suspicion, even hostility. Is it any wonder that he was reluctant to go?
For LGBT people, the heteronormative church can similarly be the citadel of the enemy, where we are treated with suspicion and hostility, told that we are disordered, sinful, or sick. No wonder then that just as Jonah was reluctant to enter the citadel of the enemy, so in the modern world many gay men, lesbians and other sexual or gender minorities are reluctant to enter the modern Nineveh, an oppressive and hostile church. The Lord, however, has other plans for us.
We are all, lgbt, straight or asexual, called to evangelise – to spread God’s word. That word (amongst other themes) is one of full inclusion of all. Jonah, against his personal preferences, entered the city of the enemy. After the crucifixion, the disciples who left for Jerusalem in despair to take the road to Emmaus, returned to Jerusalem to take the message of the risen Christ back to the leaders of the Christian community in Jerusalem. Just so, we who have so often found ourselves marginalized, treated as outsiders or worse in the institutional Christian churches, we too must go boldly forth into the foreign city, to preach to our enemies the messsage of repentance. With God’s help, we too will prevail – just as Jonah did.