20 September 2020
Jonah – the Reluctant Prophet
The story of Jonah is one of the better known passages of the Old Testament. It is a great tale and provides some light relief in the midst of the dire pronouncements of the other books in that section of the Bible. God calls Jonah to go and prophesy against Nineveh, a city notorious as a den of iniquity. That did not appeal to him so he boards a ship heading in the opposite direction. Thrown overboard because the sailors see him as the cause of a perilous storm, Jonah is swallowed by a “whale” which spews him up on a beach.
God tries again! This time Jonah does go to Nineveh with God’s message of impending doom. The whole city, from the king to the lowliest citizen, repents of its evil ways and God withholds his punishment – much to the annoyance of Jonah. He goes into a sulk because he feels he has wasted his time; God should have carried out his threat instead of forgiving them.
Is it just a good story? No, it is a parable about the potential consequences of not listening to God or respecting his laws. On a personal level our lives may not be totally “shipwrecked” if we go off and do our own thing but being attuned to God, through Jesus, will help us keep on an even keel when the inevitable storms of life hit us. On a world scale, too, this amusing yarn should give us pause for thought. Perhaps our world is in such a mess – global warming, wildfires, floods, famine – as a result of humanity’s ignorant misuse of God’s creation. The present pandemic has taught us that, despite pretending otherwise, we are mere mortals, able to be brought low by a virus infinitesimally smaller than a human brain.
But there is hope! As Jesus’ followers we are called to speak out, in the power of the Holy Spirit, for God and his world. If we do, our “Nineveh” may yet be spared.