Friday, November 1, 2013

Yahweh's Call (Jonah 1:1-2)

The word of  [Yahweh] came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying,2 “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me” (New American Standard Version).

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

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.

We are not told why Yahweh chooses Jonah. We learn nothing of his date of birth, occupation, social class, or piety. We can only say only that the choice was made according to Yahweh’s good pleasure (1 Corinthians 12:11).

We also see that these words of Yahweh are completely unexpected by Jonah. He had no reason to anticipate them.

To Jonah, Yahweh speaks very concrete words. He tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and to speak against it. When speaking with Jonah, Yahweh does not share general, let alone trivial, information. He does not give to Jonah a strong emotional experience or stronger virtue. What Yahweh shares with Jonah is both specific and a call to action.

At the same time, Yahweh calls Jonah to do something impossible without the power of the Holy Spirit. Yahweh speaks to Jonah around 800 BC. At this time Assyria is the dominant power in the East. Their policy is to rule through terror. In 721 BC they will conquer the Kingdom of Israel and scattered its people so thoroughly that they vanish from history. Yahweh wants Jonah to walk across 750 miles of desert to Nineveh and tell them that they are evil. That’s like sending a French Jew to Berlin in 1941 to do the same.

Yahweh speaks very concrete words to a person named Jonah. By doing so, he individuates Jonah; that is, he separates Jonah from the crowd. After Yahweh speaks to him, Jonah differs from others in significant and unexpected ways. He becomes the unique, precious, and irreplaceable witness to Yahweh that Yahweh created him to be.

Yahweh’s truth frees Jonah from his personal expectations and web of social relationships. It also frees him to change history.

Yet Yahweh’s individuation differs from individualism. Yahweh’s words of truth do not make Jonah autonomous: a law unto himself. While making Jonah meaningfully distinct from other Israelites, Jonah remains a fellow participant in the people of Yahweh.

Jesus speaks with us today. He remains as dynamic and communicative as he was in the days of Jonah.

When Jesus speaks with us, he calls us to share specific words of truth with our devoutly Olympian relatives, friends, colleagues, and even fellow churchgoers. Even if we live in a nation which thinks of itself as Christian, we live amidst a people devoted to the six Olympian gods of politics, war, technology, sex, money, and consumption. Yet they will know that liberating truth only if we know it first and then share it with them.

Jesus invites us to discern and affirm the words of truth he speaks to us today. He does not speak to us simply because we call ourselves Christians. Not one of us is so virtuous as to deserve dialogue with the Son of God. Without his words of truth and the Holy Spirit’s empowerment, we remain incurable Olympians. But by his grace, and regardless of our background, he does speak and the Spirit does empower.

When Jesus does speak to us, he does not chat or share with us vague generalities. Although it sometimes happens as a side-effect, he isn’t interested in flooding us with feelings of joy or peace either. He speaks specific words and invites us to share them with others through specific actions.

We might think of being a Christian as conforming to a moral code based on the Bible. But as with Jonah, living as a witness to Jesus always means discerning and affirming unexpected words. We make our plans, then Jesus intrudes contrary to all moral codes.

When Jesus intrudes, and he loves to do this, he always asks us to do something impossible without his grace. Only the Holy Spirit grants us the wisdom, strength, courage, and good cheer we need to get the word of Jesus done. To live as dynamic witnesses to the freedom, truth, love, and vitality of Jesus is otherwise impossibly demanding.

At the same time, Jesus speaks to us words of truth that call our Christian personality into being and strengthen it. It is only by hearing and doing his words today that we become the truly human beings that Abba created us, Jesus reconciled us, and the Holy Spirit empowers us to be.

When we do that, we witness to Jesus in a way that is unique, precious, and irreplaceable. We become meaningfully distinct from others—especially from our Olympian neighbors. By doing so, we change history in little ways or big as Jesus sees fit.

By doing so, we also strengthen the witness of the Church. We enable it to share, with greater clarity, all the light, love, and life which Jesus wishes to share with us and with everyone through us.

(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.