Jonah was an unlikely evangelist. In Jonah 1:1 — 2:1-2,11, God asked him to go into enemy territory, but Jonah did not like that idea at all. God wanted him to evangelize the Ninevites! Aside from worrying about his personal safety, Jonah preferred to see them get their just punishment, rather than escape it merely by repenting at the last minute.
What about the death-bed conversions of the irritating, stubbornly sin-filled jerks we know today? How would we feel if upon our arrival in heaven we were greeted by the ex-spouse who hurt us so much, or the priest who drove people away in an abuse of his vocation, or terrorists who killed innocent people in the name of Allah? What if they had refused to repent until their final moments when Jesus showed up to judge them? Wouldn’t we prefer that Jesus, instead of embracing them, would have slapped them all the way to hell?
God had to take Jonah’s “no, I won’t do that” and change his direction with a ride in the belly of a big fish. Have you said no to God’s plans because it requires helping someone you don’t like? If so, how is he redirecting your life? What’s your big fish?
Jesus shows us another unlikely evangelist. Have you ever thought of the Good Samaritan as an evangelist? The Samaritans and the Jews had been enemies for centuries. The Jews condemned the Samaritans because they compromised the Jewish faith with pagan beliefs. It should have been the Jews who evangelized the Samaritans, but here Jesus gives us a Samaritan evangelizing a Jew.
How? By the Samaritan’s great act of love, his sacrificial act of love. What he did was inconvenient. He allowed himself to be sidetracked from his own plans, he ministered to the man’s wounds, he carried his weight, and he delivered the man to someone who could help him more, covering the expenses with his own travelling money. This is evangelization. His message was: “You are loved. You matter.” It describes the nature of God. It describes why Jesus went to the cross.
In today’s world, this scene is replayed every time someone takes care of their aging parent who, in the decline of their health, becomes very difficult to get along with. And every time a handicapped baby is allowed to live in a caring home instead of being aborted. And every time a divorced wife takes care of her ex-husband while he’s dying of cancer.
People don’t hear God’s message of love when we condemn them or neglect them or mistreat them. If we choose to do only what’s convenient or we turn away because we don’t want to say “you matter” to people who are unpleasant, our souls rot inside the belly of a smelly big fish.
Love that’s given when it’s inconvenient or unpleasant is true love — it’s Christ’s love. If you are a repentant Jonah or a caring Samaritan, be assured that Jesus appreciates you very much.