Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Running away from Yahweh (Jonah 1:3-6)

Yahweh is the one odd god of truth, freedom, love, and vitality. He calls Jonah to share an important word of truth with the people of Nineveh (Jonah 1:1-2).

The people of Nineveh are Olympians. From an Olympian point of view, they are very good. At the time of Jonah’s call, they are the most intensely Olympian people on earth.

It is only from Yahweh’s point of view that their way of living is wicked. Yahweh chooses Jonah to speak that liberating truth to them.

3 But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.

4 The Lord hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to break up. 5 Then the sailors became afraid and every man cried to his god, and they threw the cargo which was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone below into the hold of the ship, lain down and fallen sound asleep. 6 So the captain approached him and said, “How is it that you are sleeping? Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish” (New American Standard Version).

3 Jonah doesn't want to speak Yahweh’s liberating but potentially dangerous truth to the Assyrians. He chooses to rupture his relationships with all who know him, with his land, with the people of Yahweh, and with Yahweh himself. He is so opposed to affirming Yahweh’s true yet challenging words that he actively buys a ticket and boards a ship sailing as far away from his previous life as possible.

Poor sailors! They expect to make a little money on a normal trip. They don't suspect that the passenger boarding with them will bring them close to death and bust their solidarity with family and friends forever.

4 Jonah chooses to end his brief, unexpected, yet challenging conversation with Yahweh. How does Yahweh respond? He chooses to reject Jonah's rejection of him. He does not choose to call someone else to speak to Nineveh. He does not kill or punish Jonah for disobedience. He chooses to continue communicating with Jonah; this time, however, by using a storm rather than words.

5 This storm sent by Yahweh scares even the seasoned crew of this ship. Threatened by death, the sailors do what they can. In the past that’s been enough. Being Olympians, they call on Jupiter (by various names) to take control and save them—not knowing that Jupiter is powerless to do so. They smartly sacrifice their profits in an attempt to save their lives.

Where is the representative of the one true god at this critical moment? Sleeping.

To the one true god, love is one’s commitment to nurture and protect another. Love’s opposite is not just malice: the commitment to harm another. Love’s opposite is also, and usually, indifference: not caring about the well-being of others.

We can go deeper. Indifference and malice both express self-centeredness: an attitude which always asks, “What’s in it for me?”

Jonah’s sleep does not witness to the peace of Yahweh. It expresses his self-centered and callous indifference to Yahweh, the Ninevites, and now the sailors. He doesn’t care about any of them. He wishes only to be left alone.

6 The Olympian captain ignores Jonah’s wishes, questions his humanity, and demands his prayerful solidarity on the odd chance that Jonah’s god can save where Jupiter can’t.

3 We might be tempted to mock Jonah for running away from Yahweh, but speaking Yahweh’s truth is always challenging. Jesus always comes to us from outside our point of view, questioning us, challenging us, speaking to us words we never expected to hear. The words he asks us to share with others are more likely to be greeted with sadness or anger than joy and gratitude. We will often be tempted to reject them and the god who spoke them.

4 Like Yahweh with Jonah, Jesus rejects our rejection of him. He doesn’t let us simply walk away. It’s not good for us or others. If he has to, Jesus is happy to make his words increasingly harder for us to ignore. He’s happy to storm our lives to get our attention.

5 We can always refuse to affirm words of truth spoken by Jesus to us today, but it isn’t good. Our lives end up stormier. Worse, others—through no fault of their own—suffer as a result of our foolishness.

When we reject Christ’s words of truth as individuals, we imperil the lives of relatives, friends, and colleagues. That’s bad enough. When we reject Christ’s words of truth as Church, we imperil the world.

Today crises multiply and threaten to overwhelm others because we, as Christians and Church, persistently reject the words of truth Jesus speaks to us today. It is not the Olympianity of Olympians that’s the problem; rather, it’s our Olympianity as Christians and Church. The problem is our self-centeredness as Christians and our callous indifference as Church to the vitality of every human being and all creation.

We may wish to think that others are the problem, but we are the ones sleeping—after having rejected our Lord for calling us to share words of truth that would not help us go along to get along.

6 Perhaps Olympian leaders will awaken us too. If they do, will we make a meaningful response to the storm?

(Today's reflections followed those expressed by Jacques Ellul in The Judgment of Jonah [translated by Geoffrey Bromiley and published by Eerdmans in 1971]).

Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.