Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | January 15, 2018

Nineveh, that ****hole place

There are a few verses from the third chapter of Jonah in this Sunday’s lectionary readings, but it’s really impossible to understand a passage from this book about a lousy prophet without reading the entire four chapters. You can do that in about ten or fifteen minutes.

I’ll give you a quick rundown. Most people know about Jonah being swallowed by a big fish (a whale in some older translations). What most don’t know is the whole parable. So here you go.

God tells Jonah to go preach to Nineveh, the incredibly powerful capital city of the Assyrian Empire. The city’s population is in deep need of a change of heart (repentance). Assyria was known for its cruelty.

Jonah’s response? “Nope.” (I told you he was a lousy prophet.) He runs as fast as he can and boards a ship to Tarshish to get away from God.

As if.

God, of course, is not limited by space, and certainly not by where Jonah thinks God should be (in Jonah’s home country of Israel, certainly not in Nineveh or Tarshish where those foreigners are of a different race and religion). A huge storm comes upon the ship and threatens to scuttle it. All the sailors pray to their own gods for rescue. Then the superstitious crew casts lots to see who on board might be responsible for the storm because of some terrible act. Jonah fesses up that he’s running from his God, and that the storm is probably his fault. The only way to save the ship, he says, is to toss him overboard. They continue to try to save the ship, but when their hope for that evaporates, they acquiesce to Jonah’s suggestion and throw him into the sea. Immediately, the sea quiets, and the impressed and frightened sailors offer a sacrifice to Jonah’s god.

Jonah is swallowed by a humongous fish, and from within its belly he changes his mind (repents) about a few things. I imagine there’s nothing like being swallowed by a fish to make a person see more clearly. On the third day, the fish, completely nauseated by Jonah, throws him up onto the shore.

Considering the vows Jonah has made while inside the fish, he changes his mind (repents) about going to Nineveh. He goes and preaches about change (repentance), and the citizens of that wicked city listen and are moved by the spirit. They change their hearts (repent) and God also has a change of heart toward them (repents), and God decides not to destroy the city.

NOW we learn Jonah’s real problem with the people of Nineveh. He isn’t at all happy about their change (repentance). He’s just plain angry. He hadn’t wanted to go there in the first place because he was afraid they might listen to the spirit and he didn’t want them to change because he wanted the city to be destroyed. “See, God? See? That’s why I got on the boat to Tarshish in the first place,” he says to God, “because I know you’re merciful and you might actually save them from destruction. I did not want to be a part of that.”

Wait. What?

Yes. Lousy prophet.

The parable ends with God’s reprimand of Jonah.

Jonah’s problem is that he is a racist and a nationalist. My people don’t like Ninevites or any Assyrians. We have long been enemies. They have a different religion. They are of a different race. They are not Hebrews.

Since they are not my people, they cannot possibly be God’s people.

That is where we all go wrong. We’re all the same people. There is one human family, period. The people of Israel, the sailors on that ship with their various religions, the mean people of Nineveh, even the lousy prophet.

The title I used for this blog is, of course, a throwback to the language used and sentiments expressed by the US President last week. His comment about not wanting to receive immigrants from ****hole countries was shameful, and showed a complete lack of historical understanding and acknowledgement of the contributions of immigrants. Though he was widely criticized in some circles, many (including many people of faith) refused to say anything negative about those words. A few noted that such comments play well among “his base.”

Just as Jonah was a lousy prophet, we have become lousy theologians. Our public theology has gotten all messed up. We condemn people who are Not Us. We don’t like them. We want God to have nothing to do with them. We want them to stay where they are, away from us. We create lies about them that we then believe. We say they are lazy, disease-ridden, dangerous. We’ve forgotten the history of the US where nearly all of its citizens’ ancestors came from other places, and where most of the countries they came from were ****holes because of oppression or lack of opportunity. Many, maybe most, of our immigrant ancestors were feared because they were deemed lazy, disease-ridden, dangerous. And yet, this country is better because of them.

It is still true that our country is better because of immigrants, including new ones who arrive from difficult places. Let us not hide our racism and fear behind the false pretense of protecting America. Immigrants are almost always extremely patriotic Americans, because for them it was a choice to come here. They are truly ones who “make America great.”

As a nation, and certainly as people of faith, we must change our hearts and minds (repent) of the racism and judgmental attitude that have been problematic since the beginnings of humanity. Let’s reflect God’s heart—one that is open wide to all people.

Then we can truly and proudly say of every race, every nationality, every human being: They are my peopleIMG_5790, altered, copyright, low, blog 1-15-18

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2018


  1. I think that Nathaniel was basically saying the same about Nazareth.

    Stay warm, friend.



  2. […] of all, here is a link to a really, really, really good sermon on this text:  The author is Melissa Bane Sevier; she wrote this sermon in […]

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