Sunday 7 November 2021: Third before Advent
Report Card for Jonah
Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Hebrews 9:24-28, Mark 1:14-20
Context: a Eucharistic service to a congregation of 30-50 people, both online and onsite, from a city parish the town centre and the suburbs
Aim: to creatively explore Jonah’s story and its relationship to Christ through the medium of a school report
I am writing to give you an update on your son’s progress as a Prophet of God.
Much was expected of Jonah at the start of the year, and he was granted a special prophetic ministry: to cry out against the city of Nineveh, whose utmost wickedness is, I’m sure, known to you.
The first lesson we teach our prophets is to follow where God calls them. We were perplexed when Jonah chose the opposite direction and disappointed when he boarded a boat for Tarshish. As he went down to Joppa, so went his grades.
His descent continued as he was thrown into the sea. It was commendable that he sacrificed himself to save his fellow shipmates.
During his time in the belly of the fish, we observed Jonah pouring out his anguish in psalms, likening his experience to death. Saint John of the Cross has likened these days of Jonah to a dark night of the soul, and our sympathies were with Jonah during this torturous time.
After three days, God’s compassion delivered Jonah to new life, and he finally turned his gaze towards Nineveh and proclaimed God’s judgment.
Now, Amittai, typically a prophet will proclaim God’s message; then be duly ignored, vindicated only with hindsight. However, the people of Nineveh listened to Jonah. They repented, fasted, and put on sackcloth. A marvellous miracle! And the judgement of God was mercifully undone. This is praiseworthy indeed, and the reason why we considered awarding Jonah an A+ for this mission project.
We’d expect a prophet to rejoice at this, but we regret to inform you that Jonah is currently sulking outside the city, displeased with the salvation of those once deemed to be beyond God’s love. Naturally, we are disappointed with Jonah’s reaction.
We will be reviewing Jonah’s grades. God’s Kingdom is less interested in statistics. Rather, it considers the heart of God’s messenger.
Jonah’s attitude of bitterness, to be frank, stinks to high heaven. Indeed, God has decided to deal with him personally. Something involving a gourd, I hear.
Allow me to share a little about our marking scheme. Everyone is measured up against the one and only Jesus of Nazareth. Many argue this is unfair; indeed, it is a cruel comparison!
Yet we prefer the language not of failing and comparison, but rather fulfilment.
In his ministry, Jesus proclaimed: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.’ A message to truly rejoice in!
Sadly, Jonah seems unable to rejoice in this Good News: that God seeks to liberate us from those things that keep us from loving God, our neighbours, and ourselves.
Jesus fulfils the Good News by exemplifying the Christian story. The stories of Scripture and the prophets will always be a pale imitation in different ways. Jonah is something of a representative of Israel, liberated from Egypt’s slavery but grumbling in the wilderness. Sadly, Jonah’s story is sullied by his bitter attitude.
However, all that Jonah accomplished in part is fully accomplished in Christ.
Each of our lives imperfectly mirrors the story of that Good News; that death of the self gives way to abundant life in the Spirit. Sinful traits like bitterness, jealousy, and bigotry must die. God’s perfect love casts them out, as it casts out fear. God’s Kingdom rejoices every time a life is liberated and made new - whether it’s an addict released from addiction, a queer teenager liberated from their closet, or even your son spat out of the fish! As Jesus says: the Kingdom of God comes near.
Although we are reviewing Jonah’s grades, we would be amiss in overlooking his grander contribution to the community of faith. As a prophet, Jonah acted as representative of God to the city. As a human who fails, Jonah is also a representative of each of us. We all have potential to reveal the Kingdom of God to those living in fear and sin, by making known the love of God. Like Jonah, we choose to run away from or to follow God’s call. Like Jonah, we choose to resent or rejoice.
Naturally, we’re thrilled with the outcome of Jonah’s ministry to Nineveh. However, his bitter attitude suggests to us that Jonah has not fully grasped the power of God’s love, which seeks not to condemn but to save.
Be in touch if you have any questions about the above. We would be happy to talk with you further.
A Servant of God.
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