The Book of Jonah is one of my favorites in the Bible. Not only is it short, but I can relate to Jonah. He is stubborn, pouty, depressed and mouthy! If God can work through someone like that, then maybe I have a chance, too!
In this story, God calls the prophet Jonah to leave his home and go to the foreign and hostile city of Ninevah, walk through its streets and prophesy its doom. (This would be something like an American being told to walk through the streets of Tehran declaring its immanent destruction.) Jonah doesn’t want to do it, so he runs away and obtains passage on a ship headed to Tarsus – as far away in the other direction as he could go. God throws a storm at the ship, and eventually the crew learns that it’s Jonah’s fault. He tells
them to just throw him overboard. He would rather die than face the future. So down, down he sinks and – this is the part most people know – God sends a big fish to swallow him and keep him safe. Jonah is grateful, and the fish spits him out on the shore.
Jonah finally, begrudgingly agrees to do his job. He trudges through the streets of Ninevah, prophesying its destruction. And you know what? The Ninevites repent. Whatever it was they were doing that was evil in God’s eyes, they stopped. And God forgave them and changed God’s mind regarding their punishment. Isn’t God wonderful? But Jonah was angry. “I KNEW that’s what you’d do!” he bellowed. “I knew you would be forgiving and spare them.”
And he pouted, in the dust, in the desert sun. So God grew a big bush over him to shade him. But then, for some reason, God sends a worm to kill the bush. And Jonah again says, “Why don’t you just kill me?” That’s when he got a “tough
love” talk from God. “Who are you to question Me? Who are you to say that hundreds of thousands of people and animals in Ninevah should die. Stop being petty and rejoice at what your work has done.”
Jonah gives hope to me and to all who feel compelled to do God’s work but don’t feel worthy or up to the task. And Jonah reminds us that the work isn’t always going to be pleasant.
As this church embarks on a “visioning” journey to lay out our goals for the next year, three years and five years, we can ask ourselves: Is there a task God is calling us to do that we are running away from? Are we hiding out below deck? Are we grumbling about the intense heat and light being focused on us? In what ways are we being a Jonah, if at all?
If we can figure out in which direction we are running, we can be pretty sure that we just need to turn around to find God.