The book of Jonah is one of my favorite books in the Bible. It is funny and ironic with a conclusion that should make every reader pause.
Take a bit of time (it is only four chapters) and read or re read Jonah. (Here,- NRSV or here-The Message). If you would like some commentary and information about Jonah, please read here and here (Westminster Reads, which I also write).
The book of Jonah is a great example of the wideness of God’s mercy. Not only is God merciful to non believers, but also to animals. No living being is beyond God’s love and mercy. What good news.
I think the intent of the book is not simply for us to say something like, “Isn’t it great that God is so wonderful!” and then turn the page. After the chuckles and giggles over Jonah’s misadventures have stopped and before we leave Jonah, we need to pause and ask ourselves some serious questions about what we have read.
In what ways am I like Jonah? Who would I rather see punished than saved? What am I doing to aid punishment? Where do I obstruct salvation?
What is God calling me to that I am resisting? Am I able to see examples of piety and faith in unexpected places and with unlikely people?
What big fish’s belly am I sitting in? Am I willing to be spewed out?
We need to be honest with ourselves when we ask these questions, but we need not despair. God did not give up on Jonah- in spite of Jonah’s best efforts. And God did not give up on Nineveh, neither the people nor the animals, despite Nineveh’s ignorance of God. God saves the sailors despite the example Noah gave them.
God did not give up on anyone in the entire book of Noah. And God will not give up on us either. Despite our Jonah like behavior and attitude. God is at work in and through us as we skirt around the edges of life and mumble. God is at work in us as we see salvation and are ungrateful and cranky about it. God is at work in and through us even when we are disobedient and obstructive. Imagine what God could do in and through us if occasionally, just for a little bit, we tried!