Jonah: Bad News for Good People

Doug Chaplin has a good meditation on the message of Jonah today:

As I listened to this morning’s Mass readings, I was again struck by a) how humorous a story the book of Jonah is and b) how odd it is that so many people insist on taking it literally. Then I really started to think about it.

You would think that people whose picture of God is shaped by Jesus might not be totally astounded to find that God likes telling stories with a point. But when it comes to Jonah, I wonder also if there is a lurking unease with the idea of God using humour. There are still churches where some people seem to have trouble laughing during the sermon, who might fit right into Umberto Eco’s weird monastery in The Name of the Rose.

Rather more importantly there’s also the point that when we read Jonah as a prophetic and parabolic satire aimed right at the heart of God’s people it becomes discomfiting and challenging. That’s when I really started to think about its message.

Do we really want God to redeem the bad guys, the bullies, the oppressors who have inflicted violence on our world? Do we want God to bring to repentance the people who demanded tribute from us whose city walls they’ve kicked over, whose farms they’ve trampled and whose villages they’ve pillaged? That’s what Assyrians did, and it’s really no surprise that Jonah wants them destroyed rather than be a vehicle for God’s mercy.

My love of the book’s comic literary artifice is brought up short by that message, because it seems like a bit of a sick joke to those who are history’s victims. God’s mercy might seem a comforting idea when we apply it to ourselves (who are rely not all THAT wicked, surely). It’s a very uncomfortable one when we consider God showing mercy to the really bad guys.

Read the rest here.


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