Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Taking Responsibility (Jonah 1:7-17)

In Jonah 1:1-6, we read that Yahweh calls Jonah to go to Nineveh and speak against its evil. Instead, Jonah boards a ship sailing in the opposite direction. Yahweh, however, doesn’t end the conversation just because Jonah wants to. He remains a very real presence in Jonah’s life by pursuing him with an increasingly bad storm.

Biblical passage

Each man said to his mate, “Come, let us cast lots so we may learn on whose account this calamity has struck us.” So they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us, now! On whose account has this calamity struck us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” He said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land.”

10 Then the men became extremely frightened and they said to him, “How could you do this?” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them. 11 So they said to him, “What should we do to you that the sea may become calm for us?”—for the sea was becoming increasingly stormy. 12 He said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea. Then the sea will become calm for you, for I know that on account of me this great storm has come upon you.” 13 However, the men rowed desperately to return to land but they could not, for the sea was becoming even stormier against them. 14 Then they called on the Lord and said, “We earnestly pray, O Lord, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life and do not put innocent blood on us; for You, O Lord, have done as You have pleased.”

15 So they picked up Jonah, threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging. 16 Then the men feared the Lord greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.

17 And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights (New American Standard Version).

7 The sailors have already tried to save their lives by praying to Jupiter and tossing the cargo. Nothing has worked. In desperation, they draw lots to discover who’s at fault.

They don’t know that Yahweh doesn’t use lots as some magical way of determining his will. But Yahweh can use them if he freely decides he wants to. This time he does.

8 The sailors rapidly ask Jonah several questions to discover some way to save the ship.

9-10 This time Jonah, finally, decides to speak the unpleasant truth. He decides to start caring for this miserable crew. He decides to affirm his relationship to Yahweh and to Yahweh’s people that he had wanted so desperately to deny.

11-13 Now an empowered Jonah decides to take responsibility for his own evil actions, and their destructive consequences, by speaking the unpleasant truth: the storm is his fault. He chooses to accept his own death so that the sailors might live. He tells the sailors to toss him overboard to stop the storm.

Earlier, Jonah didn’t care if his indifference caused the sailors to suffer. In contrast, the sailors do care about Jonah. One more time they try to save themselves and Jonah from the storm. Once again they fail.

14-16 The sailors pick up Jonah and throw him into the waiting hands of Yahweh. When the storm immediately stops, they know that Yahweh, not Jupiter, is the one true god. Their Olympian days are over and their challenging days of devotion to the one odd true begin. By speaking the unpleasant truth to them, Jonah saved these sailors both physically and spiritually.

17 What kind of fish swallowed Jonah? An Olympian question. It doesn’t matter.

Yahweh works with what he’s got. Lots are almost always meaningless. This time, however, Yahweh freely chooses to reveal his will to sailors using them because that’s what they give him. The alignment of stars and planets means nothing, but Yahweh once freely used the astrological knowledge of three “wise” men to get them to the birth of Jesus. Shepherds don’t understand astrology but they do like angels, so Yahweh sent them angels to get them to that same birth.

Jesus speaks words of truth to us but is also present in our lives today through signs and wonders. Just what these words and signs will be is always unpredictable. Nothing serves as a word or sign automatically. The presence of Jesus, the words and signs he chooses to communicate with us, and even our ability to discern his presence through them: all of this is miraculous. Our most helpful response is gratitude.

9 Sometimes Jesus uses suffering to get our attention. Not always. We would be wrong to think that every time someone suffers they deserve it. But if we ourselves have long been comfortable and suddenly things start going very wrong around us, we rightly pause to ask ourselves whether we’ve been deaf and blind to words and signs of Christ’s will. We live not for ourselves but to serve as witnesses to him.

12-15 Jonah says, “Throw me into the sea, and it will calm down. I know it is my fault that you are caught in this violent storm” (v. 12). That’s quite a confession. Jonah admits that he has not been the faithful witness to Yahweh that Yahweh had called him to be. As a result, a bad storm has caused much damage and promised even to cause death if not stopped.

Jesus calls us to live as radiant witnesses to him by sharing his light, love, and life with all the other people in our lives. When we do this, Jesus is able to keep darkness, indifference, and death at bay. When we don’t do this, our little world becomes a darker, colder, deadlier place. When the Church doesn’t do this, the whole world grows more threatened and threatening.

Let us, with Jonah, confess that we too have allowed ourselves to be complacently Olympian instead of rigorously Christian. Maybe Jesus will again use such a confession to—miraculously—strengthen our witness to him and weaken the many, varied, and increasingly powerful forms of nothingness we face.

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