I was just sitting there, innocently enough, and the thought popped into my head: Jesus creates a miracle by making a little fish go a long way; Jonah, on the other hand, creates a miracle by making a big fish spit him out.
One put the fish inside people; the other, well, got inside a fish.
While I realize that this is not the greatest insight of all time, it still made me stop and think.
And so I thought about the other oppositions:
* Jesus has to struggle to find his own way; Jonah has his way not only mapped out in front of him, he gets help with the transportation problem
* Jesus works endlessly to prove himself to God, the Father; God, the Father, stops at nothing to prove himself to Jonah.
* In spite of those who align the resurrection of Jesus with the swallowing of Jonah, I, more, see the distinction: Jesus goes to HELL (for Heaven’s sake), and has to recreate his own life after such an experience; Jonah gets a time out in a slimy belly, his life remaining intact the entire time (all he may get is hungry and dirty).
* People listen to Jesus, but then they don’t, and then, ultimately they either want him dead or pretend that they never met him; all Jonah has to do is show up and the people go wild, they listen to his every word and follow his instructions to the letter (Justin Bieber, here we come!)
* Jesus is so committed to his father that faith isn’t even a faith for him; Jonah has no faith in God, whatsoever, no matter what God does, except when he gets “trench” faith when absolutely pressed.
* Jesus is ever mindful of God; Jonah’s biggest aspiration is to forget about God altogether.
* Jesus is solely other-oriented, tribal membership is not an issue for him; Jonah is appalled that the Ninevites are saved.
The question, then, becomes: so what is the real deal with Jonah?
Jonah is one of those stories that takes the past in one hand and flings it into the future. It is an accumulation of the stories that came before as it transforms itself into a screaming comment on what is to come.
That’s the way I see it, anyway.
There is something about the story of Jonah that is unmistakable: it pounds away at the idea that God will save you.
Not just Jonah. The Ninevites, who as a culture, for some inexplicable reason, had to watch their neighbor when told to raise their right hand (and prayed that his neighbor knew the right hand to raise).
And their cows.
Perhaps even their goats.
God, The Savior, of all mankind.
Friend and enemy alike.
That’s the message, isn’t it?
And if you go back in the Bible, you find that sort of, I’ve-got-your-back characterization of God, The Father.
Even with Cain, God saves him from being executed for his crime.
Even murderers get the special God treatment.
Isaac. Last minute substitution. (I guess it would be too early in history to qualify it as a Hail Mary save.)
David vs. the really big guy. No problem. Just use a stone.
And on and on.
Even Job is restored. (We’ll set aside, for the moment, that God was the stripper before he was The Savior.)
All these years. All these pages in the Bible. All these people.
God Is Here With Us.
And then comes Jesus.
And watch what happens.
Miracles roll off his fingertips like water from a fountain.
You want wine? I’ve got your Cabernet Sauvignon.
You have doubts? Let’s take a walk across the lake.
Leprosy? No problem. And, you’re welcome.
But what happens at the end of his life? When he, like Jonah, needs a last-minute rescue? A reprieve from his fate?
Like Jonah (for once), Jesus does plead to God to be saved from death.
Nothing but crickets.
So I wonder.
There are those who claim that the Book of Jonah is a comedy of sorts. Dark comedy, but there for the laughs.
Does this story make fun of all the happy-ending stories that came before it?
Is it showing us that as a cartoon, given what will soon happen on Earth, it is mocking our growing assumption that when Jesus is pressed to the wall, an escape door will magically appear?
Are we built up and built up and built up, through all those pages, to believe that, no matter what, God will be there for us? Only to find out that that is not what God is about at all? That instead, we are on our paths. And if we stay on our paths, our paths given to us by God, all we will accomplish is what he wants us to accomplish.
For better. Or for worse.
Even to the worst.
Even to death.
Is Jonah showing us a picture of ourselves whenever we go, Oh, No Problem, God will be there for me? And letting us know that we’ve got it all twisted around backwards? That God-being-there-for-me doesn’t mean a happy ending necessarily. Doesn’t mean all will listen to us and be instantly converted. Or that our enemies will be blown to smithereens and we will get the hot-tub we’ve always wanted.
Because we believe in God.
It means that no matter what we go through, God will be there for us.
Like with Jonah.
Jonah strips down to its very bones the ludicrousy of making God into the Prince in every fairy tale. The one who lifts us up and out of the guts of whatever whale shark we’ve found ourselves in.
Where we deserve to find ourselves.
We’re not the twinkle in God’s eye because we smile and wear pink socks.
We’re the twinkle in God’s eye because we can serve him here on Earth. We can do his work.
We can accomplish his goals.
And even when we do this, unlike Jonah but perhaps more like Jesus, we may find ourselves on a path of pain and suffering.
But it’s still our path. The path that God has assigned us.
We have to lift off our confusion of thinking that the bad things that happen to us in our lives are some sort of punishment. And the good things are rewards.
It’s one of the hardest detachments to learn, I believe.
But we’re not Jonah, as much as he can represent Everyman.
We won’t have our every prayer answered in the way we want it to be answered, immediately.
We won’t be saved from all the things that swallow us up.
Except, of course, for those times when we are.