Jonah’s Dilemma (The Curse of Being Heeded)
(This entry is based partly on Bible stories I heard as a child, partly on a paraphrase of the original Biblical tale by Anne Herbert that I first read in the 1981 edition of the Whole Earth Catalog. One of the downsides of being reform-minded is that we often don’t know how to react if/when the reforms we are so passionate about do get implemented.)
The Bible poses thorny problems, new to us over and over.
Take the story of Jonah. As children, we reveled in his adventures–
Being swallowed by a big fish, then spit out, alive
On a faraway shore. Wow!
It’s not until much later (and sometimes never) that Jonah’s ethical problems
Begin to grab us. Like the whale’s digestive system, they gnaw at us,
Leaching nourishment into our souls.
Most other Biblical prophets ranted at a reluctant public
Who refused to heed their warnings, getting their just desserts
In due season: being pulled apart by dogs, like Jezebel,
Or exiled to Babylon, like the Jews, or…
We’re pretty good at filling in the blanks.
Jonah didn’t want to rant and rave. He could see retribution coming
For Nineveh, and he did not want to risk being prophetic.
But being a prophet is a calling not dismissed easily.
Despite Jonah’s best efforts at evasion,
He was thrown among the people he was meant to warn.
He stuttered off his message, finding to his great surprise
That his audience was receptive. What’s more, they were willing,
Even eager, to mend their ways.
Which left Jonah in the lurch even worse than being barfed up
By a whale. Where is the paragraph in the prophets’ manual
That explains what to do with a repentant public?
Jonah had no role models.
He did what most of us do when thoroughly frustrated–
He threw a tantrum, venting much of his stored up
Invective at a God who once again surpasses our
Addiction to pat solutions.
And God replied with a question, an important one:
Is there a possibility that someday, somehow, we, too
Can surpass our addiction to pat solutions?