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In the meantime:
Here’s a short version. The Book of Jonah “ain’t about no stinkin’ whale!” The Moral of the Story is that God loves everyone. (“Even – gasp – liberals?”) In other words, it’s about how God’s love is universal. Or to repeat the lesson of John 6:37, God will accept anyone. (Who turns to Him…)
I mention this because starting last Tuesday – October 13, 2020 – the Daily Office Old Testament readings came from the Book of Jonah. (The readings ended – appropriately – three days later on Thursday, October 15.) Briefly, the book “tells of a Hebrew prophet named Jonah … sent by God to prophesy the destruction of Nineveh but tries to escape the divine mission.”
Which leads to the whale.
As noted in previous posts, the real message of Jonah is this: “God’s love is universal… It ain’t about no ^%$## whale!!!” I wrote that in the January 2015 post, Jonah and the bra-burners. The “bra burner” part referred to the 1968 Miss America protest. That’s where some feminist protesters allegedly “burned their bras” as a way of getting attention for their cause. But see also Feminism Has a Bra-Burning Myth Problem:
The way we remember the Miss America Pageant protest in 1968 in Atlantic City, New Jersey is a good example.* There is no statue on the Atlantic City Boardwalk to commemorate an important protest about standards of beauty for women and a contest tied into capitalism, war, and race. Instead, our cultural touchstone from that day is the negative and trite association of feminists as “bra-burners.”
In other words, before the event one of the organizers thought that such a form of protest “might be a good way to launch the movement into the public consciousness.” The effort succeeded, but the success turned out to be a “blessing and a curse.”
First, organizers asked police officials for a permit to burn such items as bras – and also girdles, cookware and Playboy magazines. City officials refused the request, so the protesters threw the offending items into a garbage can. But a New York Post report “included a reference to bra burning as a way to link the movement to war protesters burning draft cards.” As one organizer later noted, “The media picked up on the bra part.” (That darned Liberal Media!)
Which is pretty much what happened to the story of Jonah:
My point was that the “attention-getter” in Jonah – the whale – got in the way of the real message. So the Book of Jonah was just like the “bra-burners” at the 1968 Miss America pageant, where that real message got lost too. The real message of Jonah is: God’s love is universal… (It ain’t about no ^%$## whale!!!)
That’s the problem with an attention-getter. Like burning bras, or using a whale as a minor but memorable detail in a parable. Sometimes the attention-getter gets in the way of the real message. In the case of the Book of Jonah, ever since it came out too many Bible-readers have “picked up on the whale part.” And ended up ignoring the real message behind the book.
The real message came in Jonah 4:11, after Jonah finally did what God wanted: Go to Nineveh and “prophesy its destruction.” It was the capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, Israel’s long-time arch-enemy and greatest tormenter. So Jonah went and proclaimed God’s message, but to his dismay, city residents from the king on down “repented their sins.”
And as a result of that, God repented of His plan to destroy the city.
Which made Jonah very angry, “angry enough to die.” He left the city and watched from afar, hoping God would still destroy it. But he got even madder, “enough to die.” Not only did God not destroy Nineveh; He killed a plant that shaded Jonah from fierce sun and burning wind.
That’s when God chastised him, saying, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” On which note see also Was “Abraham” a pimp?
In that post I pointed out the error of reading the Bible too literally. That’s because the Bible is about real people, facing real problems, not a bunch of superheroes who are so much better than us. Like Abraham, who “was not some ‘goody two-shoes’ bent on preserving his ‘virtue.’” And notice how God changed the names of both Abraham (Abram) and his wife Sarah (Sarai). The point of that metaphor is that “with a true Christian – a real Christian, not a too-conservative ‘Pharisee’ – God changes people.”
It’s all about change, and being transformed. And you won’t be able to go through that “life-changing” – like Jacob into Israel – if you’re too conservative. In Jonah’s case he was not only “conservative” but also pretty vindictive. (Like most of us are from time to time.) Or maybe he was just an example of “there are none so blind as those who will not see.”
In the meantime, go ahead and “preach to the Ninevites.” They might just listen…
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The full readings for Tuesday, October 13, were: Psalm 5, 6; and Psalm 10, 11, Jonah 1:1-17a; Acts 26:24-27:8; and Luke 8:40-56. The readings from Jonah, from the following Wednesday and Thursday, were Jonah 1:17-2:10 and Jonah 3:1-4:11.
The “good example” part referred to “our conflicted feelings about women as major players in American history.” The full sentence in the Myth Problem article: “I think our failure to honor the movement is rooted in our conflicted feelings about women as major players in American history.”