So, let’s start with what should be obvious: the story of Jonah and the “whale” is fiction. Sorry if that shatters your illusions. We don’t even have any clue when it was written or by whom. The good news is that there are many messages that can be gleaned from the story, nonetheless.
(For the full audio version, click here.)
As I researched Jonah and worked on my message this week, I came to like Jonah more and more. One would expect a prophet to be beyond the reach of us ordinary human beings. One would expect that they would be completely in tune with the Divine and even exhibit the “fruit of the Spirit” that Paul talks about in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Instead, I found that Jonah displayed seven clearly non-spiritual “gifts”, he was angry, pouty, whiny, aloof, stubborn, petty and defiant. But this truly endeared Jonah to me because he was just so human!
You see, in the story, God tells Jonah (an Israelite and devout Jew) to go to Nineveh (the Israelite’s arch enemy) and warn them to change their ways or be destroyed. That would be like each of us being asked to help, be nice to, or pray for someone who has personally hurt us or those closest to us. I’m sort of ashamed to say that I’d probably be right there with Jonah running the other way. Who wants to help someone who has hurt them?
After the debacle with the big fish (often portrayed as a whale), Jonah relents, but not happily. Why? Because he doesn’t want the Ninevites to be forgiven. He wants them to suffer. He’d be happy if God would smote them. Jonah, unlike other prophets who don’t want to bring calamity to people, doesn’t want to bring God’s love. And he still does his best not to. Jonah gives them all of a 5 word (in Hebrew) warning. He doesn’t tell them who he is or who the warning is from, and much to his chagrin, the entire city – people and animals – don sackcloth and ashes and repent.
Now Jonah is really angry with God. He goes outside the city gates and pouts, wishes he were dead. Even after God tries to help Jonah to see how ridiculous he is being and why God loves these people, we are left not knowing what happens to Jonah. Will he learn and change and perhaps become more understanding and compassionate? Or will he remain outside the city gates, arms folded against the people of Nineveh and refusing to participate in the work of a loving God?
This was the message for me this week. In any given situation I can find myself angry, pouty, whiny, aloof, stubborn, petty or defiant (not pretty, but there you have it). Is that really where I want to be? Standing against the work of a loving God who desires healing, abundance and wholeness for all people (even the ones I can’t stand)? It’s a growing edge for me, and probably always will be.
In this expanse of time and space we are each a small incarnation of a great love. I know very little for certain, but I firmly believe that the very essence of who we are – under the layers of wounding, baggage, pride and ego – is love. Period. To be who we are is to live from that place of love and participate in the loving work of the Divine. This is our brief time to learn to let go of anger, pouting, whining, stubbornness, aloofness, pettiness and defiance – not just with our family, friends and spiritual communities, but everywhere, with everyone. This is transformational. This is what I want to be remembered for. I may not be perfect, but I will keep trying.