The anger of Jonah looks silly! (and so does ours)

Now this is just silly.

Now this is just silly.

The prophet Jonah was called to go to his enemy and offer up the hope and Grace of God. After his epic struggle of accepting this call to go to "those people", Jonah sat outside the city and waited for God to rain down wrath on "those people". And, of course we know now, this wrath never happened. Jonah got angry at the whole thing and the story ends with God asking Jonah if it is okay for Jonah to care about a plant then shouldn't it be okay for Got to care about people and animals? 

It has been said that you can go to the area of Nineveh and look up and still see Jonah, sitting there on the top of the cliff looking down, angry that the destruction of "those people" never happened. 

It is silly to think that someone would be that angry for that long about anything. It is silly to be in the base of the valley and look up to see one angry person just sulking. It is silly to see one person get so caught up in anger. Looking at another person who is angry give us a different perspective on our own anger. 

Just as Jonah looks silly, so too we look silly when we are angry. There is much to be concerned about in this world, and those concerns can stoke strong emotions, but let us remember that anger was one of the things the desert fathers/mothers taught seekers to be cautious to embrace.

Just a few sayings:

Abbot Ammonas said that he had spent fourteen years in Scete praying to God day and night to be delivered from anger.

Agathon said, “Even if a person raises the dead but is full of anger, that person is not acceptable to God.”

James O. Hannay in his book, The Wisdom of the Desert, even speaks of the Fathers teachings on anger in this way:

The only point which is really peculiar in the hermits' teaching about anger is that the possibility of righteous anger is altogether denied. No matter how wicked a brother might be, or how serious the consequence of his sin, it was not right to be angry with him. To try to cure another of sin by angry denunciation was the same thing as for a physician to try to cure his patient by inoculating himself with a similar fever, for to be angry even with sinfulness is to sin.

May we be a people who sit in the valley with the Ninevites and repent of our misdoings and have pity on Jonah who sits on the edge of our city, praying for our demise.

This is difficult to do, not of least of which because we are not talking about repenting quite as much as we once did. Just doing a quick search take a look at how the term 'repent' has declined in usage over the decades.


Jonah son of "My truth"

The book of Jonah begins this way:

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying,

It is worth remembering that this opening line is very similar to the modern day story opening, "Once upon a time..." This is to say that like any good story, the truth of Jonah is not limited to the historical or the scientific. The Truth in Jonah is of the poetic and mythical. 

And like any myth or poem, there are layers of meaning that go deeper than the surface. For instance in the name of Jonah's father - Amittai. 

Amittai means "my truth" in Hebrew. Which begs the question, what truth is Jonah the son of? Who is the "my". Is God the "my" or is Jonah's father the "my". Based upon the later actions of Jonah I think it is a safe assumption that Jonah is not the son of the Truth of God, but in fact the son of the anyone who has "my truth". 

You have your truth and I have my truth. It all depends on how we look at it. For instance, depending on how we look at light, it can be a wave or a particle. The problem is not that there are multi-truths in the world but when we are holding too tightly on "my truth" to not make room for other truths. This is a dangerous place to be. And this is the place Jonah is in. 

A brother asked one of the elders: What is humility? The elder answered him: To do good to those who do evil to you. The brother asked: Supposing a man cannot go that far, what should he do? The elder replied: Let him get away from them and keep his mouth shut.

A brother asked one of the elders: What is humility? The elder answered him: To do good to those who do evil to you. The brother asked: Supposing a man cannot go that far, what should he do? The elder replied: Let him get away from them and keep his mouth shut.

Jonah is holding so tightly to his truth that he is unable to repent. The people of Nineveh repents (3:5), the king of Nineveh repents (3:8) and even God repents (3:10). But not Jonah. Jonah is the only one who is holding on to "my truth" so tightly that he cannot do what his enemies or even his God does. 

It seems to be the case that Christians have been known more for the tightness of truth that we cling to rather than the humble love of Christ we are called to. Even after all these years, even after all the times we have heard the tale of Jonah, even after the example of God in Christ, still many of us are convinced that "my truth" is "The Truth". 

Can we really be that certain of our understanding of "my truth" when we are so easily fooled by optical illusions and sleight of hand? Theist or Atheist, all of us share the same temptation - we all think that "my truth" is "The Truth" and "your truth" is just silly, wrong, fantasy, inaccurate, false, or a lie. 

Perhaps there is wisdom in the desert fathers and mothers who believed the goal of Christianity is not truth but Love. What would my life look like if I were to embrace love rather than grasping "my truth"?


More Jonah Greatness

In the last post I expressed how Jonah (whose name means "dove") was rejected as a sacrifice because God sent the fish to save and protect Jonah. The interpretive jump then was to the speculation that in the story of Jonah, God is rejecting the need for sacrifice all together. An idea that I am sure has been fleshed out elsewhere, but this post I want to share just another bit of Jonah greatness.

On the boat, it is clear that the sailors are looking for the cause of the violent seas. However all their searching to find the person responsible was just that - looking for someone else other. Not one sailor verbalized they may be part of the problem. All their finger pointing was to finding someone else to blame. Surely they are not part of the problem, right?

We do this. When there are "sea" of life becomes violent and out of control, we tend to be like the sailors and think that someone else must be to blame for the problems and difficult situations we find ourselves in. We tend to think that our contribution to a difficult situation is mild at best and if it were not for "the other person" life would not be so messy. 

Sailors look to scapegoat others for the problems.

Which is why the actions of the king of Nineveh is so remarkable. He, and by extension the entire city, do not know why there is a pending calamity coming to their city but they all take a share of the blame. From Jonah 3:6-10

"When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: ‘By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.’ When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it."

The Ninevites do not look to blame others. They do not sacrifice a dove (like the sailors did at Jonah's direction). They did not look to find an alternate scapegoat. They covered themselves in ashes and sackcloth. 

Nineveh looks inward and humbly accepts they might have been part of the problem. 

It is my prayer that we all might be less like a sailor and more like a Ninevite.

God rejects sacrifice

Jonah is one of my favorite books of the Bible. I am proud of my religious tradition that in it's infancy it was the story of Jonah that the early Church elevated as a formative story. Not Moses. Not Isaiah. Not even the great Amos or David. It is the story of Jonah that we find carved in sarcophagus and on the walls of the early church meeting places.

Recently I re-read Jonah and lead a quick study on the book. There are many things that are worth elevating, and perhaps those will make an appearance on this site. But I want to share one insight that did not even dawn upon me until it just came out of my mouth the other night. I am sure that others smarter than me already knew this, but this insight is new to me. 

Jonah Sarcophagus.jpg

Jonah's name means "dove". Which is not that interesting on the surface, but when coupled with the idea that one of the most common animals sacrificed in the temple to "appease the gods" were doves, then we have something interesting. 

When the "dove" is thrown overboard and sacrificed to calm the storm, it is God who saves the "dove" from death by sending the great whale (big fish). Could it be that God is attempting to overthrow the sacrificial system? 

As the story moves along, the people of Nineveh are called to repent. We might expect the people of Nineveh to sacrifice animals to avoid the pending doom. But they don't. In fact all they do is put on sackcloth and cover themselves in ashes. They don't sacrifice a dove like the sailors did.

And then, the pending doom was not to be. The great city is not destroyed. 

Jonah is angry that this has happened. How could it be that God would forgive this city if they did not kill anything? How could God possibly forgive such sinners without the sacrifice of an animal (or for those who think Jesus was their sacrifice, remember Jesus was not around yet)?

The entire theological understanding of God that Jonah has is overturned. (Which may be what Jesus is trying to say when he overturns the tables that were in the temple selling sacrifices?)

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt-offerings.
— Hosea 6:6