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The last of Jonah’s three days and nights at Nineveh, and it’s a good one

by davesandel on October 6th, 2021

Wednesday, October 6, 2021                         (today’s lectionary)

The last of Jonah’s three days and nights at Nineveh, and it’s a good one

Jonah was greatly displeased.

In the Bible books labeled the Prophets and Minor Prophets, God is the one who is displeased. Or the prophet is displeased with the people. When the prophet is displeased with God, you know something interesting is about to happen.

But Jonah wants to get his words in, and God lets him. Jonah’s point of view might be racist and xenophobic, but he gets to say what he thinks.

God did not carry out the evil he threatened, and Jonah was angry.

“I knew that you are a

gracious and merciful God,

slow to anger,

rich in clemency,

loath to punish.

Jonah put his own skin in the game, at least for the moment.

And now, Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.

God’s response was simple.

Have you reason to be angry, Jonah?

But Jonah didn’t answer. On this second of the three days and nights it would have taken for him to walk through the city and threaten the people, he found a place outside the city where he could watch the sunset.

Jonah built a simple hut, sat in the shade and waited to see what would happen to Nineveh. Like  atomic scientists watching their bomb explode in the Arizona desert from a supposedly safe distance, Jonah watched. Will the city blow up? Will the people come streaming out the gates, writhing in pain? Will he just sit there in the noonday sun, and watch no thing happen? He kind of thought the third. But God – Jonah’s good God – was with him during all that time.

The Lord God provided a gourd plant that grew up over Jonah’s head giving him shade, relieving him of any discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about this plant.

It’s Saturday, but Sunday’s comin’. Jonah woke up early on the third day, hoping to see a mushroom cloud in front of him, shining in the dawn. No dice. What he saw instead was an ugly old worm chewing on his gourd plant, and as he watched, it withered.

In the rising sun God sent a burning east wind. The sun beat down on Jonah’s head. Jonah asked for death again. “I would be better off dead than alive.”

Jonah does not really mean it. He’s just miserably hot, and mad at God besides. Jonah is like all of us immortal mortals. Anne Rice, in an interview about her book Interview with a Vampire, said of herself and all of her readers, “It’s very difficult to realize that we are going to die, and day to day we have to think and move as though we are immortal. A vampire transcends time, yet he can be destroyed, go mad and suffer, so the book is intensely about the human dilemma.”

And Jonah cannot bluff God. God asks him again, “Do you have reason to be angry over the plant?” Jonah says yes, but then clams up. God gets the last word.

YOU are concerned about the plant, which cost you nothing, which came up in a night and then perished the next. I am concerned about Nineveh, and the 120,000 persons who live there, who cannot distinguish their right hand from their left … not to mention the many cattle.

Was he grinding Jonah down, insisting he see a larger perspective, discard his bias and prejudice and thoughtlessness? That may happen to readers, it certainly happens to me each time I read it. Jonah, on the other hand, is the kind of adversary God might have to wrestle with till dawn, and leave him with a bad limp to remember him by.

Jonah needs a simple prayer to get past the strong emotions that lead him astray. He needs what Jesus gave the disciples.

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

That’s the prayer Jonah needs. Of course he must add the supplications and the cautions, but that first part, just say that over and over, Jonah, 5000 times and then come back tomorrow.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. (Do you hear me, Jonah?)

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Along with the journey, those three days and nights at Nineveh would have changed my life. I hope that happened to Jonah too. Our pretend immortality is nothing compared to the real thing.

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

(Jonah 4, Psalm 86, Romans 8, Luke 11)        

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