The story of Jonah is another Bible favorite! The reluctant prophet, the ship's crew in fear for their lives, a tempest, "man overboard!" a great fish, the prophet acquiesces, a land journey, a wicked city with a wicked ruler, a prophetic voice, a repentance and mending of ways, a temper tantrum, and a prank by the creator of the universe. Maybe you remember it as Jonah and the Whale. It's an epic tale and lends itself to child's drawings, costume dramas, puppet plays, and stained glass windows.
Which part of that story is about you? Is any part of that story like you or like part of your life?
Let me suggest a few places where you might see moments of your own journey in the journey of Jonah.
Have you felt compelled to take on an onerous or dangerous task? God compelled Jonah to go to Nineveh and tell them to shape up. Jonah really didn't want anything to do with such a fool's errand. The embarrassment would be huge. He clearly would have no effect on the wicked. His reputation as a prophet would go down the drain. It was a long and difficult journey. They might just throw him in jail, or worse. Jesus, faced with this kind of task, asked to be let off, although if that was not possible, he said he would complete his destiny. Jonah just got out of town.
How about this one? You might have realized that you were the one messing things up. Or you violated your relationship with someone; being too controlling, being unkind, losing your temper in a hurtful way, grabbing a moment of selfishness. Jonah knew that he was the one who was the cause of the tempest. He comes to a dramatic moment of truth, don't you think?
"He said to them, 'Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.'"
Have you ever given Jonah credit for this moment in the story? He will sacrifice himself for a bunch of strangers, people he just met. It is extraordinary! And then something else extraordinary happens. They refuse!
"Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to bring the ship back to land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more stormy against them."
So, over he goes. Can you relate? Have you ever cast your fate upon the uncertain or dangerous path in a way from which there is no turning back? Or perhaps you can relate to what must have happened after he hit the water. Jonah knew he was finished. Nothing is stronger than an angry sea and he was right in the middle of it and beginning to sink. There are images stuck in my head from the end of the movie, A Perfect Storm. One is Bobby Shatford, played by Mark Wahlberg, who is overboard and floating. He is completely alone in the vastness. Another is Billy Tyne, played by George Clooney, who is still in his boat, underwater, staring up as all is lost. Have you been there beloved? Have you been in a place where there is no more help coming, no hope at all?
Then maybe you have found what Jonah found. Even in the most devastating, hopeless chaos, something comes swimming as if it owned the place. The great fish swims to the rescue and Jonah is saved. God's child, leviathan, whale, giant beast of the sea, water angel, comes and saves the drowning prophet.
When you are in the place of chaos and pain, beloved, may you find the very hand of God to hold you and see you through.