Finally, the End has Come! Jonah Meets the Fish

Finally.

I bet that is just the word Jonah said, as his breath bubbled up to the surface. Finally, the end has come.

There are a couple of ways to picture the prophet Jonah in the little vignettes of his life. The story can be read as sort-of a sandwich of rebellion, obedience and rebellion- first, Jonah runs, then he comes to his senses on the boat, praises the Lord for his obedience, goes to Ninevah directly upon vomitation and preaches the word of God before he finally falls back into his rebellion to God and hatred of humanity. You could legitimately (perhaps) read the story as a story of a good prophet gone bad- of only twice. If this is true, then he immediately recognizes the salvation of God Chordatic form and he means every vampy word of his hymn of praise. Finally, he would say to himself, finally the end of my disobedience and rebellion against the Lord has come. Maybe. I doubt it.

It would be much easier for me to imagine Jonah as a man filled with self-pity. He has been defeated in his battle against the Lord, sure enough, but the fight is not quite over. Think about Jonah on the ship, as he tells the sailors to cast him overboard. He has been found out in his sin. Should he fear the Lord, offer a sacrifice and make his mind up to take the next ship back in the direction of Ninevah? Should he pray, like Moses, on behalf of the innocent mariners whose lives he has jeopardized- or better, like Jesus, they know not what they do! What I mean to ask is, do you really think the only way to Jonah’s redemption was to ask for his own execution? And what about that?

Was Jonah incapable of jumping out of the boat on his own? Were his legs broken?

No. It was more important for Jonah to be in the right than to own up to his own faults and fight for the good of those around him. He knew he would be in the wrong to jump out of the boat, but what if a bunch of useless mariners tossed him over? Well, their standing with the Lord could not possibly count for much, right?

And we have arrived at Jonah’s basic problem. He was a self-righteous man, above all else. Think about the last verse to his little ditty to the Lord, upon being eaten by a gigantic fish:

Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.
But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you;
What I have vowed I will pay.

For a refresher, who, in this story is struggling with idol-worship? Two groups: the useless mariners and the wicked Ninevites. And who is on the Lord’s side? One man. Jonah, the grace-hoarding prophet who has caused the sea to be turned upside down and who finds himself in the belly of a fish. Jonah may be one step closer to understanding God’s heart but he still has light-years to go before he can take a kernel of truth from his own tale. In this story, the mariners have become the God-fearers and the prophet has become useless, vain, idolatrous and hopeless. Jonah’s story sounds all too familiar to my own.

Every day I substitute self-righteousness for responsible living. I measure myself against the jerks I work with. Just like the Pharisee in the story Jesus told, I find myself thanking God that I am not like them. I see Jonah’s reflection when I look in the mirror.

Our call is not so much to sinlessness as it is to love one another; to bear one another’s burdens. We agree when the Lord call us rebels, haters and prodigals. We live lives of repentance. We seek ways to love those around us. And we rest in the one true thing Jonah says in his vampy little tune:

Salvation belongs to the Lord.

He is for us, even when we are working against him.

Finally the end can come- the end of hating God and neighbor. With every end comes a new beginning. He calls again to us to join in his work of love, burden-bearing and humility.

4 thoughts on “Finally, the End has Come! Jonah Meets the Fish

  1. Wow! Brother, whatever else you are, you are a great writer, lively, candid, ‘in your face’ without tearing that face off, existentially athletic—I can’t even come close to describing what hits me when I read what you write, particularly this piece. Stroke of genius? Maybe, or heart attack of genius… Just one of your (God-given, you can’t help yourself!) talents is the gift of irony, of turning the tables on us. Just when we think we’ve comfortably understood you and can get back off the edge of our seat, like a roller coaster in a dark tunnel (I think of ‘the Bobs’ in Chicago’s old Riverview Park) you suddenly take a plunge, and we find when we’re back in the light, that our head is where our ass should be, and vice versa.

    I would like to post this entire testimony on my blog ‘Cost of Discipleship’ but I want to make sure that there isn’t a typo in one of the lines, which doesn’t quite make sense to me the way it’s written:

    If this is true, then he immediately recognizes the salvation of God Chordatic form and he means every vampy word of his hymn of praise.

    ‘the salvation of God Chordatic form’ — what are you saying here? I checked the hyperlink at ‘Chordatic’ and saw the page about the fish phylum, but I’m still baffled about your meaning, or how the line is to be read.

    I also didn’t know the word ‘vampy’ that you use a few times, so I looked it up on line. It means something like seductive, like what a vamp (seductress) does, only with more force, because it’s so colloquial. If this is what you mean by using it, that throws your whole testimony overboard (and I mean that in a good way, as it’s part and parcel of the style of this piece, which is to tear our hides off while we’re alive and not anesthetized, and yet not kill us). It’s because you run free after the Lord like this, even while your own flesh is on fire, not fearing to follow Him even while you’re sinning, and not sporting your repentance as ‘getting even’ with God, that I feel like I am ‘under your skin’ when I read writing like this. Yes, you have talent, but what does it matter if it’s something you can’t help. Thank God you work as a waiter in a steak house, even if this is only a choiceful metaphor ‘I serve food to people’ and not the literal truth. But if it is literal, tell me where you work, and what shift, so I can come and have you personally serve food to me. For that food, call me a glutton. Even my sinful flesh rejoices to be stuffed that way.

    Have a good day, brother, and please write me back. I’d like to re-post this on my blog, and I want to make sure I get the meaning of that ‘God Chordatic’.

  2. Casey,

    This post is now up at my blog. Please let me know if there was a typo, or if there’s anything you’d like edited, or, if you do not want me to post it at my blog, let me know, and I will take it down.

    Romanós

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