Tuesday, December 14, 2010

December 14

OT: Jonah 1:1-4:11

Well, it turns out that Harris and my husband are in almost complete agreement on the book of Jonah. Both believe that the book is clearly intended to be a fictional story illustrating a greater truth about the need for love and compassion among God's people. (Well, to be perfectly clear, Greg's official position is that the story makes its point regardless of whether it actually happened.) Greg sums up the message of Jonah as, "Don't be a self-righteous jerk." And indeed, Jonah is a totally self-righteous jerk.

Whenever I heard the story of Jonah as a child, I remember that the explanation given for his disobedience to God's call was that he was afraid to go to Nineveh. At least, that's the message I heard most often. But no. Jonah himself clearly states his reasoning in chapter 4, when he tells God, "O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity" (2). Jonah was afraid, alright, but not for his life--he was afraid that Nineveh would be saved. That is a whole other level of nastiness.

And like Harris says, Greg says that Jonah's jerkiness is contrasted sharply with the goodness and humanity of the pagans in the boat. The whole reason that Jonah is there in the first place is because he wants a large city to die a fiery death. And yet, these men, who don't know God, are willing to risk their own lives to save him. Rather than throw him overboard to end a desperate, terrifying situation, they continue to work to spare his life. Even though Jonah asks them to throw him overboard, they refuse. What a contrast! Finally, they relent, and, seeing the miracle of the calmed waters, they turn naturally to God. When Jonah later sees the miracles of national repentance and a vine growing out of nowhere, he only becomes bitter against God. Again, the audience is supposed to clearly see the irony that the pagans are ten times more decent and humane than one of God's own prophets.

And you've gotta love Jonah's message to the people: "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned." Yeah, he really put his heart into that one, right? Clearly, Jonah is not even really trying to convince them to repent. And yet, hilariously, the whole city completely and totally turns to God. The king even orders that the livestock fast and wear sackcloth. This story cracks me up. It is clearly meant to be funny. And Jonah's reaction is also hilarious, but more in a sad way. Rather than rejoice at God's power, Jonah pouts like a petulant child. In the subsequent interchange between him and God, it all comes out that Jonah only cares about himself and what is good for him. He cares about the fate of a vine more than the fate of 120,000 souls, b/c the vine keeps him cool. So he'd rather save a plant that helps him than a city that he hates.

The message here is devastatingly clear. God's people can easily get caught up in the worst kind of selfishness. They (we) have the message of God and are supposed to spread that message to others, but so often, we don't even care enough about other people to tell them. Even worse, there are people, sometimes large groups of people, even whole nations, that we would rather not preach to, b/c frankly, we'd rather them have to pay for their sins than be forgiven. That is so nasty. Jonah only cared for himself and his people. Christians today--even me--sometimes get caught up in putting the physical and spiritual well-being of "me and mine" before our calling to "go into all the world and preach the good news."

It's kind of sad how applicable a cartoonish figure like Jonah can be to God's people, back then and today.

NT: Revelation 5:1-14

Meanwhile, back in throne room, a scroll appears. It is sealed with seven seals, which represent the seven spirits of God. Oh, how I would love to know what that means. Anyway, John weeps because no one is worthy to open it. That seems like a very dream-like thing to do. I don't really know why John is crying, since he doesn't know what is in the scroll and since he probably has about as much an idea of what is going on as I do. But somehow, it strikes him as very sad that no one can open it.

Then, in comes a lamb with seven eyes and seven horns, a lamb that looks like it has been slain. That seems like a weird and gruesome picture to me. First of all, all those eyes and horns would almost be grotesque to people only used to regular animals, and then to see an animal that looks like it should be dead from the violence done to it would be extra gross. I say all this b/c I picture myself in John's place, as if I was seeing the vision, too. And I think that these would be my reactions. This animal, representing Christ, is worthy b/c he was slain to save men "from every tribe and language and people and nation" (9). Because of his worthiness, everyone then rejoices and worships the lamb, including "every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea and all that is in them" (13).

Psalm 133:1-3

A lovely little psalm rejoicing over brothers living in unity.

Prov. 29:26-27

A reminder that justice ultimately comes from God and not from earthly authority, and a statement about the natural enmity between the wicked and the righteous.

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