“Oh Jonah, he lived in a whale”

As the song from Gershwin’s ‘Porgy and Bess’ reminds us …

Jonah was God’s appointed prophet, but had an attack of foot and mouth disease. His mouth refused to take God’s message to the people of Nineveh, and his feet took him to a port with a boat to Spain. Now what was all that about?

The people of Nineveh were Assyrians, a different nation with a different religion. They were ‘them’ rather than ‘us’, and Jonah didn’t see why God should do ‘them’ any favours. He went AWOL. God, however, sent the stormiest of storms against that boat. Jonah told the crew he was disobeying his God and, reluctantly, they agreed that only if he were thrown overboard, would the storm stop. 

The prospects for Jonah seemed bleak, until a whale took pity on him (or fancied an unexpected lunch) and swallowed him whole. The bible says ‘a big fish’ without giving it a name but, of course, in the beginning, when God brought all the creatures to Adam to give them names, even God drew the line at transporting a whale from the Mediterranean to the Garden of Eden!

Jonah made himself at “home in that fish’s abdomen”, composing lyrics and music for a Psalm, and no doubt singing it with gusto. His talent, or the lack of it, however, gave the whale not just a headache, but a bellyache as well, and Jonah was vomited up onto the nearest beach. Having learned their lesson, his feet now took him to Nineveh, and his mouth delivered God’s message to its people. They swallowed that message as eagerly as the whale had swallowed Jonah.

You’d think that Jonah would be very pleased, but he was anything but. Why should these people from a different country, with a different religion, share in the good things enjoyed by his own people? He sat down and sulked. It was a burning hot day, and he began to roast. God, however, made a tree grow at high speed, so its branches would give him shade. But then, God summoned a worm to munch its roots, and the tree withered away as fast as it had arrived. Jonah was not a happy bunny.

‘Look here’, said God, ‘you like to have comfort and security for yourself, and get upset when you lose that. Why then do you not you want other people to have comfort and security, and why do you not you get upset when other people lose that?’ Jonah seems to have forgotten that it was claimed that Israel’s God was the God of all peoples, of whatever country and whatever religion. 

There’s a timeless message here about treating every person, of whatever country or religion, with fellow feeling, decency, generosity, fairness and respect. In the difficult times that lie ahead for our planet, that’s going to become ever more important for our mutual survival.

[ Image – pathofthegnostic.com ]

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