Jonah: It’s not about the whale.
Yes, there’s a big fish that swallows Jonah, but that’s not the heart of the story! Jonah is a reluctant prophet…and in that he is like many of us. We are hesitant to stick our neck out and say anything about God and God’s will in the world. We’re afraid of how people might react. They might be offended! God forbid!
In Jonah’s case, there’s a twist. Jonah finally does preach God’s word to Ninevah, a notoriously evil city – basically, “Because of your evil ways, you will all perish!” Lo and behold, the Ninevites heard, and they did repent. They cleaned up their act, they showed remorse, they fasted. And God changed God’s mind and spared them. So was Jonah pleased by their change of heart? Not at all. He was humiliated that he had preached their doom, and then God had changed God’s mind. Jonah was incensed at God’s forgiveness of the Ninevites, and he went off to sulk about it.
Being called to speak and act for God – that’s what prophets do – is often a lonely and trying vocation. A good prophet is one whom nobody loves, because we all want to follow our own way, and not God’s. So we shy away from speaking out, even when we feel strongly that God’s will is not being done.
But we can work on this; we can try to do better. We can speak up – right away – when somebody speaks ill of another race or group of people. We can choose a social issue – maybe immigration rights – and demonstrate, write letters, pester politicians, and be heard. We can stand up for others in our workplace who aren’t getting treated fairly. (I was pleased to see Mark Wahlberg donate his movie earnings when he realized that his costar Michelle Williams was paid just .07% of what he was paid.)
It’s not easy to be a prophet of God. Jonah tried hard not to. But it’s not a choice for Christians…unless you want to go live in the belly of a big fish. JBM