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Hard to swallow

“Please, LORD, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, LORD, have done as you pleased.” Jonah 1.14

This cry could have been uttered by the Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus, or the unholy alliance of Pharisees and Herodians who put them up to it. In fact it comes from the mouths of the sailors who hoist Jonah overboard when it emerges that he is the cause of the storm that it threatening their shipwreck. Much of the opening chapter of Jonah foreshadows Jesus' ministry: the call to enlarge God's mission to reach pagans, the prophet's willingness to offer his own life for the saving of others, the three days and nights he spends "buried" in the great fish...

The big difference is, of course, that Jesus fulfilled his role willingly, despite his apparent "wobble" in the Garden of Gethsemane ("Lord, take this cup from me..."), while Jonah was prepared to jump on a ship heading as far as possible in the opposite direction to shun his vocation. Only in his willingness to sacrifice his life, when he is eventually found out, does Jonah display any virtue.

Yet should we not be seizing upon this glimmer of nobility, as our way into the deeper meaning of the story? For it finds its appropriate response in the reluctance of the sailors to act expediently, instead redoubling their efforts to row everyone, including Jonah, to shore and to safety. Of course their efforts prove futile against the sovereign will of God, who has bigger fish to fry (sic!). And indeed therein lies our key to interpreting Jonah: even when it looks wrong, it is just as well that God's will prevails because he sees the bigger picture and has our ultimate good at heart. So trust God and do what is right!



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