My name is Jonah. It means dove. You have all heard my story, or at least the part about being swallowed by a whale. Well, I can tell you that part of the story was a whale of a tale conjured up by those scribes who thought it would add a real dramatic flourish.
But I was angry with God. God is supposed to protect we Hebrews and not take care of our enemies, especially the Assyrians. Don’t you feel the same way about God? Your people are special and God should look out for the chosen ones first. Those Assyrians who lived in Nineveh were nasty, nasty people. God should have wiped them off the face of the earth, just like I wanted. They had all kinds of really bad habits and they didn’t worship the same God as we do, the only true God. We Hebrews all thought it was a country straight out of a donkey’s rear end.
Can I tell you how angry I was?? Have you ever wanted another country wiped off the face of the earth because they were so bad? I was ready to see some fire and brimstone come down and then what happened? The king repented; he said he was truly sorry and was so sorry that even the cattle had to repent. I bet they really had fun trying to put sackcloth on those cows and bulls and donkeys. Ever tried to get a mule to do something it does not want to do?
But that is the thing, isn’t it? God is supposed to take care of me, of us Israelites. We are the ones who have sacrificed everything for God, we are the ones whose priests do all the right rituals and whose people follow all the right laws. And what does God go and do? He forgives Ninevah!! All those gentiles. The world would be better off if He had killed them all, but no, he goes and forgives them.
I think God is way too generous and compassionate. He should have listened to me and done as I wanted in the first place: don’t even bother trying to tell the Ninevites they were wrong and sinful; just go and take care of them. Send in the angelic storm troopers, hit them with everything you have.
But I don’t think that way anymore.
And now I hear there is a song about me, sung by vegetables of all things. Have you heard of Veggie Tales? Well the song about me is called “Jonah was a prophet” and it goes like this:
When I was a boy I went to church back home in Arizona And it was there I learned the tale of a man whose name was Jonah now Jonah was a prophet, but that's not why he's remembered They tell the tale, Cause in a whale he nearly was dismembered!
Jonah was a prophet oo-ooh! but he really never got it sad but true! and if you watch him you can spot it a-doodley-doo! he did not get the point!
Compassion and mercy from me to you and you to me exactly what god wants to see and yes that is the point!
Jonah went out on a ship to sail Got caught up in a dreadful gale Got eaten up by a giant whale there is no more to be said now poor old Jonah and now he's all alone-ah got to use a megaphone-ah to get it through to his head-HEY!
now during your life you prob'ly don't ride on a camel and you prob'ly won't wake up inside a large aquatic mammal but now in your life there is something you can do everyone deserves a second chance to come from you!
Compassion and mercy from me to you and you to me Exactly what god wants to see and yes that is the point!
But the sad thing is, they are right. I never really did get it. God wanted me to be our there being fishers of men and women; God really is gracious and merciful to all of us. You know how that Gospel writer, Mark, keep saying over and over “IMMEDIATELY”? Well that is what God wanted from me: to bring the good news to the Ninevites IMMEDIATELY and save them. I know, I know that all I said was repent. Actually I didn’t even say repent, I just said God is going to get you. But that is not what God wanted, was it? God wants justice and mercy for everyone and everything so I might as well quit pouting about it. I think the sons of Zebedee did the right thing; they went IMMEDIATELY, as did Peter and Andrew. Funny how they thought they had it all figured out in the beginning; but they did their share of stumbling and bumbling and not understanding.
Me, I didn’t want to get it but I still did what God wanted, at least in the end.
So how about all of you? Do you want to be like me and end up being remembered for being swallowed by a whale (even if that was a bit exaggerated)? Do you want to be remembered for being like the disciples, jumping in right away but then having all kinds of failures and misunderstandings?
In the end what I learned, and what the disciples of Jesus learned, is that God is truly gracious to everyone, whether they are Assyrian or Jew or Roman or Greek. For you it means realizing there are not strangers to God and there should be no stranger to you. God loves people of all faiths and places and appearances. What God does not tolerate is bigotry, hatred, and a failure to treat others as you would want to be treated. What God does not tolerate a failure to respect God and all of God’s creation, no matter what form that takes.
OK, so Jonah learned his lesson, having had one of the most famous misadventures in all of human history and even had a Veggie Tales song written about him, which I do think got right to the heart of the real meaning of the story of Jonah. I also, BTW believe Jonah was met to be funny as well as teach us much about the character of God. Jonah was the world’s worst prophet; in fact he spent most of the book avoiding his calling (do we do the same most of our lives, minus the great whale adventure?) and his one prophetic utterance turns out to be totally wrong.
So what is in it for me and you? We have a chance, looking from the sidelines, to make a better choice than Jonah or even the first disciples, who never really understood that to which they were called.
But that is also the point. We know we are called and we fumble with our call, but we still in the end do it and when we do we deliver God’s great compassion and mercy. That, my friends, is our call.