Thursday, November 24, 2011

Jonah and the Vine

Jonah and the Gourd Vine, Jack Baumgartner
I've been thinking about Jonah.

Not the Jonah of chapters 1 and 2 - the reluctant prophet, running away from God, thrown into the sea, finally making it to shore in a tide of fish vomit.

But the Jonah of chapters 3 and 4 - the prophet without compassion, all too eager for his disastrous word to come true, sulking in the desert because God is merciful.

The picture (used by permission, see here for more) is of Jonah after his journey to Nineveh.  The text portrays Nineveh as a vast megalopolis, "three days journey across".  Its huge and complex structures are not sustainable; Jonah warns that the city has only "forty days" on the path on which it has set itself.  Indeed, this sounds like a true word of prophetic warning.  But as the story unfolds we find that what underlies it is Jonah's secret contempt for the people to whom he is sent, and his nasty doubt as to whether he will actually see the catastrophe that he depicts. Sitting under the vine, outside the city, he "waits to see what will happen".

If I sound a warning about the unsustainability of our teeming world, I need to beware of this attitude of mind. 

But in the end the last word as the word of grace that belongs to God, who says "Should I not have mercy?" - both on the people and livestock of the huge city, and on the isolated, vengeful prophet.

No comments: