If someone asked you what the book of Jonah was about, would you mention the whale?
The story of Jonah is an interesting one so knowing about the whale is a good start. The story is filled with details that are an odd fit for a biblical story. The main character, Jonah, does everything in his power to run away from God. When God first calls him to send him on a mission to Nineveh, to the capital city of the enemy of his people, Jonah runs to the sea. He hires a boat to take him to Tarshish, a mythical place far away from God, like El Dorado or Mordor. Jonah runs, thinking that God’s power is limited and that the sea would shield him. But it doesn’t. God sends a storm that stops the boat in its tracks and Jonah is tossed into the sea. The whale comes and eats Jonah but not to kill him. Instead, the whale is sent by God to save Jonah and bring him to the shore.
Jonah tries to run from God but God doesn’t give up on him.
God wants Jonah to visit Ninevah, tell them that God has seen their evil ways, and that God will destroy them. Now, there’s nothing in Jonah’s message that asks for the people to change. There is just the warning that something is about to happen. But, somehow, the people of Nineveh do change. They hear God’s voice in Jonah’s words and they ask for forgiveness. The capital city of the people against Jonah and Israel hears God’s words. They listen. And if even Jonah’s enemies can listen to God’s voice, then everyone is available to God.
The story of Jonah continues after our verses (Jonah 3:1-5,10) today. Jonah hears that God will no longer destroy Nineveh and Jonah gets angry. He continues his pattern of wanting God to do what Jonah wants to do. But God refuses. God isn’t in the business of just doing what we want. God is in the business of redeeming, savings, loving, and resurrecting others. And if God is willing to save Nineveh, then God is willing to save us too.
Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for 3rd Sunday After Epiphany, 1/25/2015.