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Lent 2011

And Also Much Cattle

Day 3

By Thomas Reppart, Epworth Village, York, Neb.

When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, "It is better for me to die than to live." But God said to Jonah, "Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?" And he said, "Yes, angry enough to die." Then the Lord said, "You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?"

—Jonah 4:8-11

For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, "The one who is righteous will live by faith."

—Romans 1:16-17

Maybe because I grew up on a small dairy farm on the eastern edge of central Ohio amid a variety of livestock, as a child my favorite part of the Jonah story was—and still is—not the "whale" or the storm or the preaching and repentance but the passage for today's reflection, particularly the last verse (in the King James Version of my childhood): "And should I not spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left; and also much cattle?"

As a young boy it amazed me that this last verse of a book of prophecy in the Bible had God being concerned about the welfare of "much cattle." Why? And how? God was concerned about the l

Jesus is merciful.
Jesus will save.
ivestock that belonged to a pagan people with a reputation for violence and cruelty? Sometimes I sought refuge from those imponderables in trying to figure out how many sixscore thousand persons was, and what was a comparable city of my experience, and just how much livestock might they have. Even today, that is the easier calculation.

Why does God care for whom he cares? Why for so much of the time does God's job description seem to be to rescue the perishing, care for the dying? Just how does God snatch them in pity from sin and the grave? Why did Jesus weep o'er the erring one, lift up the fallen? Why should I tell the poor wanderer a Savior has died?

Evidently, God's pity for the cattle of Nineveh is somehow supposed to impact my personal behavior on a daily basis. Can it be there is more to "be holy for I the Lord your God am holy" than Bible reading, church attendance and doctrinal adherences? Must I, God-like and with the eyes of Jesus, look down in the human heart and see crushed by the tempter, feelings lie buried that grace can restore? Does God's pity and Christ's saving power work through my sensitivity, choices and actions? Is that how touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness, chords that were broken will vibrate once more?

The young children I work with are sometimes crushed, aimless, abandoned, abused, angry, even violent. They may be so distraught they cannot even "discern their right hand from their left," not even know what they are doing wrong, or how to do right. But God can, through us who are members of the risen body of Christ, find ways to care for them, just as he did the people, and even the cattle, of ancient Nineveh.

The Apostle Paul in Romans 1:16-17 declared that the gospel of Christ is the power God uses to save, a process that begins and ends with faith.

Two years ago, for some weeks one of our clients participated regularly in spiritual life sessions and took his turn in individual prayers at each session's end. He would say, somewhat grumpily, "Well, God, I don't believe in you. But I've got to talk to someone, because I've got problems." After some weeks that preface faded away, and he eventually became one of our most articulate and eloquent prayers. At that year's Christmas banquet he composed and led the public prayer of blessing for the occasion. Chords that were broken will vibrate once more.

Recently during a spiritual life session one 9-year-old blurted out, "You are wasting your goddamned breath and my goddamned time because I don't believe in no goddamned god, goddamnit!" Before I could think what to say, another 9-year-old said, "That's all right. Sometimes we feel that way. But Thomas is here because he believes in you, and we believe in you, and that's how God believes in you."

Jesus is merciful. Jesus will save.


Holy, and all-wise God, merciful and compassionate: For showing us that you do care, and for showing us over and over in scripture how you care, we give you thanks and praise. Thank you making us sensitive and caring beings, in your likeness, and giving us opportunities daily to work your will in the world right around us. Bless especially those United Methodist Women who so consciously and conscientiously serve locally your global and eternal mission. Amen.

Last Updated: 04/16/2014

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