Sunday, October 12, 2014

Jonah

For the past two days, I’ve woken up and the story of the Biblical prophet has been in my head.

Not the story from your childhood: Jonah swallowed by a whale, three days later, miracle of miracles, he emerges alive.

That’s part of the story, but it’s not the point.

By the way, the text never says it was a whale. The behemoth swallowed him. No one knows what that was. Some say a huge fish. Jacques Cousteau held out for grouper.

We love Hollywood special effects. Who could resist this fantastical story?

But it’s not the story of Jonah.

Jonah was called to preach. He had a specific assignment: Go to Nineveh and preach doom. Three days, and this city will be overturned.

But he didn’t want to do it. He ran away.

That’s how he found himself in the belly of a sea creature. He ran to the coast, boarded a ship, and sailed away.

However, no one easily says no to God.

A storm overtook the ship. After the seamen threw everything overboard to save the ship, Jonah shared his secret. He was the problem. The ship was lost unless they threw him overboard too. The seamen resisted, but Jonah was persuasive. At last, after doing rites to absolve themselves from guilt, they did as he said. They threw him overboard.

Only then did the great sea creature swallow him up.

 By the way, that was not the point. Jonah spent his time in self-reflection—he had been saved. Why?

Let’s recap. Lost to the world, having run from God but finding out that was not possible, Jonah was entombed so he could reflect upon his actions. He repented. Only then did the creature bring him to shore and vomit him upon the land.

Jonah went to the city. He preached. Miracles of miracles, greater than the belly of a fish and three days of survival, the people listened. They repented. God relented of the judgment He was about to bring upon them. Nineveh lived.

That made Jonah angry. He told God that was why he ran away. He knew God was a God of compassion, mercy, and forgiveness. He knew if the city listened, God would set aside his judgment. Jonah didn’t like that. He didn’t want that.

He sulked outside the city. In the hot sun, he pouted. A vine grew up to shelter his head and he was grateful. Then a worm ate through the stalk, the vine died, and Jonah sat in the hot sun. He cursed everything he could think of.

Then came the lesson.

It’s not about a whale. It’s about following one’s call without regard for the consequences. Sometimes shelter will come, but it will not last. When you honor God’s call, there are no guarantees. But the very last thing one should do, any of us, is to sulk because God extends mercy to those with whom we are angry.

What has this to do with me?

I’ve been angry. And I want to run away. I’ve made no secret that I am applying to other school districts to get out of Nineveh, the wicked city, run by those who worship false gods: testing, career advancement, anything other than listening to the God who has compassion for the students who spend so much of their lives in the belly of our whale.

Three days and this city will be overturned. Like anyone in the district wants to hear that preaching even as they run it into the ground. They are the panicked seamen on the ship. Everything tossed, they no longer know what to do. Am I supposed to throw myself overboard to save them?

It is difficult. There is no shelter any longer. A worm has bit through the stalk of my big-leafed vine. I am seen.

The message remains. Three days …

When I guest post in a certain blog, things happen. Certainly there is correlation, although I do not have the ego to claim causation. Even so, there is so much correlation … three days.

One thing only I know, I will not sulk if the city heeds the message.


But why is this story in my head?