“And should I not be concerned about Ninevah, that great city, in which there are
more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left,
and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:11)
As of now, I cannot think of a better last line of any story in any book in the Bible. In these concluding words of the book of Jonah we hear about God’s great love for an apparently hapless or at least directionless people, not to mention all the animals which resided there.
And so it was in these last days I spent some time again in the story of Jonah. I simply read through it in my own favorite translation. I was also helped to ‘stand still in it’ by Robert Alter’s Translation with Commentary of the Hebrew Bible.
Here is where this took me:
As I listened to God’s voice calling Jonah to Ninevah, I recalled the times God’s voice has niggled at the edge of my own consciousness, calling me also to go to places I would rather not.
As Jonah runs with all the energy he has in the opposite direction, to Tarshish, I have considered the countless times I have fled, avoiding doing what I know should be done, must be done, but which I didn’t want to do, was afraid to do, could not yet imagine doing.
As I consider the reasons Jonah might not want to go to Ninevah, I am reminded of ‘enemies’ without and within whom I would rather not confront, much less bring a message which just might save them:
- Out of fear, perhaps.
- Out of resentment, maybe.
- Out of a trepidation that God would do what God always does, the reality of which somehow threatens to destroy all of that upon which I have built my sense of how the world works.
- Out of an unwillingness to trust God.
As I hear him offer himself to be thrown overboard, I marvel at Jonah’s integrity and wonder if I would do the same. Would I have the courage to own up to that which is putting other innocent ones in danger? Would I?
And as he spends three long days and nights in the belly of the proverbial fish, oh, don’t you know just what that feels like now? I know that I do as we live in this period of suspended waiting. In face, I am thinking now that perhaps Jonah’s words of thanksgiving during those long days and nights might somehow be guide for me as well. (Jonah 2)
Certainly as Jonah finds himself lying on the beach, covered in who knows what kind of gunk, I can certainly relate to how he must have felt these days as perhaps you do, too. I cannot imagine that Jonah would have even known exactly where in the world he was then and even before he gets his bearings, ‘the word of the Lord’ is there to give it to him. Indeed, it didn’t actually matter where he was then, it was time to get to Ninevah.
- And so Jonah goes.
- And from all we can tell, he half-heartedly delivers the message with which he is sent.
- And the people repent, because God’s Word is evidently heard in spite of the reluctance of the messenger.
And then we meet up with Jonah today under that sheltering bush, wallowing in his resentment that God did exactly what Jonah expected God to do.
Clearly, Jonah is a work in progress. As am I. As are you, I expect.
- Indeed, no doubt this priceless story is about God and God’s faithfulness.
- It is also about how God’s servant(s) interact with and are affected by, perhaps even changed by the truth and the wonder of God’s faithfulness.
For me, at least, this story rolls around at an opportune time, as I suppose it always does.
And I find myself wondering at what stage in Jonah’s journey I am on.
- Am I, are we, running from God’s intent for us? And why? What is making me run?
- Am I facing up to the damage my flight might just be doing not only to myself, but to others?
- Am I deep in the belly of that large fish, suspended in time, waiting for what will come next? Is this a time for reflection, for going deep, for returning in gratitude, in thanksgiving?
- Do we find ourselves spat up on dry land, grateful to be alive, but not even sure of where we are?
- Are we going to those places where we are called to go, reluctantly even? Are we speaking the words we are called to speak there?
- Am I able to be as honest as Jonah in the end? (And he was at least that…)
- Oh, am I still so caught up in my own fear, my own hurt, my own whatever, that I am not able to recognize that God’s gifts are meant even or especially for those I least expect, or least want?
Am I with Jonah under that now dead piece of shrubbery, unable to rejoice at God’s generosity and thus unable to completely receive it even for myself?
Oh, I know Jonah’s reaction is extreme —- so much so that perhaps at first we find ourselves laughing at him, unable even to see ourselves reflected in him.
And yet, we are there, too. Or at least I am. Too often I am.
So it is today that I find myself wondering what or who or where ‘my Ninevah’ is.
- Where is it that I do not want to go, but am called to anyway? Is it a place, a person, a circumstance or does it reside in my own heart?
- How is it that God is still working, even in spite of sometimes my reluctant sharing of God’s gifts with the world?
- Am I able to hold close the truth that God is and God does exactly as I already know God will be and do? And that is always wondrous gift, always undeserved?
- Am I able to receive this gift as not only for me, but also for those I least expect or least want?
- Will I spend the rest of my life wallowing in my resentment under a dead bush, or will I hear the invitation to both rest and rejoice in God’s love for the world: ‘for all those people who do not know their left hand from their right, not to mention those many animals?’
Oh, what is my Ninevah?
What is yours?
And what will be ours to give thanks for as we simply go and speak and then witness what God will do?
How are we being called out from underneath a dead bush to join in the rejoicing at what God is already doing? And how will our own faith, our own lives be changed as we take that first step and then the one after that?