One Whale of a Tale.2

by admin on July 30, 2012

Jonah 2:1-10
Reflections for 29 July 2012

Today’s theme could be thought of as “be careful what you pray for.” Deliverance just might take you into a new and surprising—and perplexing—situation.

Earlier this week NPR broadcast a story that claimed US still religious, but trust in institutions has waned considerably. Only 44% of Americans have “great confidence” in organized religion. Yes, there were several considerations and situations to blame. Cause and effect behavior.

However it was noted that those religious institutions that were thriving had some similarities—practical application of religious teaching. By practical I mean: can you try this stuff at home? There was less pronouncements about what the other guy should be doing and more emphasis on what each person plopped down in a seat could do—that is, manage her own life; take stock is what he was about.

That being said—how’s the homework coming along? Homework? I didn’t know we had any. Anyone had any encounters with the awesomeness of Grace? The expanse of God’s plans? The struggle to sort out this God thing in the middle of a personal mess?

The book of Jonah is about that. Today we look at chapter 2—Jonah’s prayer in the belly of the big fish—whale. Scenes of Disney’s Pinocchio fill my mind Monstro the whale.

Jonah prays for deliverance and is rescued. His prayer is answered. This prayer is unique yet nearly every thought can be found somewhere else in the Psalms. There are three stanzas: 2b—4; 5—7; 8—9 with an introduction. I’m going to call this prayer a sort of thanksgiving psalm because it roughly follows a pattern found in them in the book of Psalms

V1:17—2:2a The prayer’s brief narrative introduction conveys an important detail (probably worth considering in any case) The fish is a divinely appointed instrument like Jonah. BUT unlike Jonah the fish fulfills his divine commission.

Stanza 1 2:1-2a Calling out to a god is a recurring theme in the book. Lots of that. Jonah prays to the Lord HIS god.

2b—9 begins a pattern of 2nd and 3rd person references to Yahweh I CALLED TO THE Lord in my distress and HE answered me……YOU cast me into the deep… This pattern occurs frequently in psalms of thanksgiving. Upshot—Jonah feels trapped in Sheol.

2:4 Both first and second stanzas (2:2b-4; 5-7) conclude with refrain “upon/into your holy temple” God’s holy temple can be found in two places: Jerusalem (Psalm 79:1); or in heaven (Psalm 11:4). Both stanzas have this common idea: overwhelming crisis—banishment to Sheol—assurance of new life.

Stanza 2 2:5—7 Uppermost in the mind is the severity of the ordeal at hand…in order to amplify Jonah’s rescue by Yahweh.

Worth noting is the action here in Vs. 6 “I went down….” — “You brought up…” This verse is the psychological centerpiece of the prayer. Jonah’s descent has been told from the moment of his disobedience (1:3,5,12,15) Now having experienced God’s redeeming action Jonah is both physically and psychologically Re-directed.

Stanza 3 2:8—9 Ironic contrast: Jonah condemns the action of others while commending and congratulating himself.

1. Yes….But. The prayer in chapter 2 sets the stage for a counter point in the prayer of chapter 4. Chapter 2 talks about the traditional trust found in Israelite prayers. I trust that Yahweh will get me out of this mess—i.e. being in the belly of a fish. The bowels of Sheol. Then in chapter 4 Jonah resents Yahweh. “I knew you would keep your word and let those Ninevites off the hook.”

In his prayer and worship relationship to Yahweh, as well as in his experience of divine deliverance—Jonah is on the same plane with the pagans. Remember the sailors of last week: they pray hard—any god will do—no atheists in foxholes. Their chief complaint against Jonah is that he wasn’t doing his fair share of praying.

Jonah is same as the pagans. What could make him not a pagan? As we will see later in the book Jonah himself refuses to repent of the evil in his heart against the people of Nineveh. In fact, that pagan city full of outsiders gets included in the purposes of God while the insider—Jonah—gets left out because of his own decision making. Yes, Yahweh, you are merciful……BUT I’m not planning on you being that merciful.

2. Geography of faith—psychology of prayer. I said that verse 6 was significant in this chapter because of is movement: down/up. Jonah goes down…..God pushes him up. So well said in verse 10. “Then the Lord spoke to the fish and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land.” There is lots of movement in Jonah as this prophet runs away from God and God’s calling and God’s ultimate purpose. Remember – the plot of this book is Yahweh’s resolve to save Nineveh.

Within this prayer and the rest of the book comes Jonah’s personal struggle and conundrum with what it means to follow a God whose righteousness and mercy go hand in hand. Jonah knows how Yahweh works which is really his crisis of faith. He has a fundamental conviction that divine mercy and salvation are reserved for people like himself. And it’s this fundamental conviction that has to die.

When Jonah prays “you brought up my life from the Pit” does he really know what he is saying? The Pit is more than just a difficult situation, it is his existential predicament. Jonah’s fundamental persuasion about religion must die. What Yahweh’s mission and message is inviting the prophet to consider is a fundamental re-direction of his own life. Can I live my life being as gracious as God is? If so—how do I get it?

Here is nothing short of psychological change. Prayer is really about re-wiring the brain and allowing the dopamine in our heads to make us feel good about acting gracefully and not vindictively. Talk about a major geographical shift.

3. Something fishy. The fish is the vehicle whereby Jonah is put deeply at risk to the power of chaos—the roaring sea (which is pictured in the Bible as chaos and filled with monsters). He is rescued by the power of the creator who presides over the chaos. Yahweh is greater than the forces of chaos run AMOK.

As we’ve said; the plot of Jonah is Yahweh’s resolve to save Nineveh and his strategy is to use Jonah. But Jonah disdains god’s mercy for others so God finds is necessary to resort to Plan B—give Jonah some time to think things over. This is of course a recurring issue in ancient Israel Is Yahweh for the outsiders, too?

This point gets well made when God is able to use forces outside the realm of official theology—pagan sailors and a fish—to accomplish the very thing Jonah is invited to do—that is—be faithful and let God work though him for his glory.

What is God’s glory? Redeeming all of life for his ultimate purpose. What are the fishy times in your life where God is trying to bust through your reluctance to allow him to redeem? Is your life somehow out of the realm of possibility for God to work in?

Because this was and still is a recurring issue for humanity—can God actually do this stuff of redemption—Jonah is more than a one told tale; more than a big fish story. It was constantly retold in Israel—referred to by Jesus—and is there in the Bible to shake the foundations of our neatly planed and carefully constructed religious beliefs. What is more UN-believable for you A big fish? Or God’s mercy?

T.S. Eliot Murder in the Cathedral: “{We} fear the hand at the window, the fire in the thatch, the fist in the tavern, the push into the canal, Less than we fear the love of God.”

Jonah says that God is constantly redeeming life. It’s a movement, not an idea. Is that true? How is God redeeming your life? Think in terms of what fundamental ideas must you let go of?

Do you feel good when someone who has hurt you falls into trouble or personal failure? What’s your vindictive quotient?

The NPR report is worth thinking over and contemplating. It’s not going to go away, this phenomenon of growing mistrust and disdain for organized religion. How might God be using this particular fish to invite us into new territory?

Finally, I think the real issue at play in the disdain of religion is its utter disregard for the practical implications of dogma, doctrine and belief. Once again I hear Peter Senge’s evaluation: Christianity as we know it in the Western world is content to be a body of beliefs; whereas Zen Buddhism presents a way of life.

What did Jonah do? What did Jesus do? He said: I have come to give abundant life. He didn’t say: to preserve the priesthood, to keep doctrine from getting fouled up, to build bigger barns/churches. He said a way of life.

As you go down into the Pit this week, be alert to how God is raising you up for his glory.

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