If you are a member of the American Mafia (Cosa Nostra for you real die hards) you may be familiar with the term “sleeping with the fishes.” It is a way of describing the fatal ending to someone who opposes the work or life of organized crime. It may or may not mean that someone is in the bottom of the lake, but it clearly means that someone is now fish food and will no longer be a rebel to gangster activity. Too many people have gotten caught up in criminal activity and considered expendable so that others could keep control and maximize the profits for the bosses. For what – money and territory? Sad.
The story of Jonah is a similar story about someone who does not obey their boss and chooses to act on his own. For Jonah it is good that his rebellion is not met with blood or death (although you might attempt to argue that he deserves it.) Jonah is given gracious redemption for his selfish action. Jonah may have deserved to sleep with the fishes forever, but he was fortunate to only hang out in their domain for 3 days and 3 nights. Can you imagine the stories he told his grandchildren about his time in the fishy dungeon?
That is how our God rolls. He exchanges his mercy for our miscues. He gives grace for our gory goof ups. He lavishes us with love when we deserve a lashing. He comes to our rescue when we ought to get ridicule and rejection. He forgives when He has every right to feature us as eternal failures. He gives up his rights to be mad so that we may accept His royal affection and acceptance.
Everything about God is impressive and attractive. As we see the glory and greatness of our God, we see the sin and shame of our souls. It is the brightness of His holiness that so clearly portrays the tarnish of our soul. The most common reaction of humanity is to rebel, to run, to act righteously indignant believing that God will give in to our will. In the end we find that God is not interested in changing His nature or plan, He wants to change us.
Jonah did not want to be or do what God wanted him to be and do – so he ran. Jonah brings great chaos into the world of innocent sailors by acting in disobedience to God’s call – so he hides. Jonah gives up on himself and convinces others to be a part of his end of life – so he quits. Jonah tumbles into the deep and unknown without direction, purpose, or care. Jonah went to sleep with the fishes,
But God was there too.
At the end of the world and the end of himself, Jonah meets God. And he can’t get away. He is there alone with the one who created him and called him to be a prophet. Instead of getting the guilt trip or “I told you so,” Jonah gets God. He didn’t deserve it, but he got Him anyway. Jonah got what he didn’t deserve from God by doing…wait for it…nothing! He just turned away from himself (easy to do in the belly of a whale) and turned into God.
And the rest is history.
He found dry land. He found his preaching voice. He finds favor with God and with the people of Nineveh. He finds his place in the story of God. When he should have slept with the fishes forever, he gets an audience with the one true God.
And you can too…
Jonah 3 – Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.
The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.
For September 21, 2014 / Proper 21