The Book of Jonah tells the story of the unlikely Hebrew prophet of the see name. Sent by God to prophesy the destruction of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, so that the enemies of Israel might repent and change there ways, Jonah refuses to do God’s will. While the story has become mostly known for the large fish or whale (only mentioned twice in the story); the book is primarily about the vastness of God’s compassion and extraordinary love. Jonah questions God’s decisions, believing God is too lenient on wicked people who should be destroyed rather than redeemed. As we hear his story, wether we consider it historical or metaphorical, we have to question our own relationships with others, expectations of God’s compassion and acceptance of God’s radical plan for universal redemption.
Luke, tells his gospel version of the life of Jesus for Greek-speaking people, who were primarily Gentile, or non-Jewish. Today’s gospel sections lay the groundwork for seeing Jesus as that Messiah, and include some parables about his reign.
Jonah would rather die than see the Assyrians repent and turn to God. Rather than celebrating in the extraordinary life-changing compassion of God, Jonah wants to see God wipe out these former these tyrannical brutes who have persecuted the people of God in the past. In his bitterness, righteous anger and theological disgust he has no room for grace, forgiveness or redemption. Where he wants the universe to be black and white, God illustrates that it’s also grey, undecided, unfolding and dynamic. Theologically the story of Jonah asks us how we respond to those we disagree with politically, in this hyper-polarized electoral age? What about those we deem to be racist, homophobic, or accommodating or captive to hyper-politicized correctness? At what point in our perspectives and judgments do we refuse to let God be God, desiring for the divine to think like us?
Questions for the Practice of Examen & Contemplation
- Traditionally we hear the story of Jonah as one about vocation. We, like Jonah, are called by God to be active in what God is doing in the world. How do we respond? Will we reject it as Jonah did? Or will we move into it with obedience? On a deeper human level though we have to ask what will it take for us to accept God’s call? What motivates us? Reward? Fear? Anxiety? Failure? The threat of hell? The promise of heaven? The experience of grace? How has God called you, or is calling you today? How have you responded? How did that change what God did, or is doing?
- The story of Jonah can also be heard as much more than about a fish and Jonah’s call. God calls us to surprising things: Jonah is to proclaim repentance and peace to a wicked people undeserving of grace. God’s love is more awesome than Jonah – or we – could ever imagine. God has compassion on the Assyrians and the Hebrews. Both peoples are redeemed. How do we make God smaller than God is in terms of our love of others, our vision of what God prioritizes and who God wants to include at the table of justice – the vision of God’s kingdom in Isaiah 2:1-4? Who has taught you in your life to see the abundant and generous largesse of God’s love? How do fear, mistrust or preconceptions deafen your ears to God’s call for you, for us in our world today?
- Who do you struggle to include as worthy of God’s compassion and extraordinary love? How do you talk with God when you disagree, or struggle to accept God’s leading, word or direction? Talk to God about where you’re struggling today, how you need help, grace and bigger vision…maybe you need your heart to be bigger, or even broken, for more of God’s love to dwell within the confines of your innermost being.
original artwork by Scott Erickson @ scottericksonart.com