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Saturday, February 8, 2014

Entry 3: Jonah, The Dollar General, and the Whale



Dear Friends

February 8, 2014

Re:  Entry 3

I had an odd occurrence recently.  The local electric utility announced a power outage, temporary, but lasting several hours.  As I would normally be working, I planned meticulously:  cell phone Wi-Fi, IPad with that citrix thing, laptop batteried up, coffee in a thermos and, just in case, a Little Debbie Nutty Bar I bought at the Dollar General just before the end of the world (because, I suppose, I did not want to go into eternity hungry).  I picked a corner office on the south side of the building affording more light exposure in winter-- as every prepper knows.  I wore thermals (forget that it was 35 degrees), layered clothing and what I like to call “Oliver Twist” gloves.  I was prepped, ready.  Those other poor unknowing, hapless, fellow shoppers at the Dollar General, unlike me did not have a clue about real survival, planning, preparation, articulation for the conflagration to come.  I was locked, loaded, and…

It didn’t happen.  They never turned the power off.  At least they didn’t during the time that I sat there (all of thirty-five minutes) before I got bored and abandoned the Apocalypse.  I left weirdly disappointed.

I can’t help compare my little dilemma to the book of Jonah.  You know the book, Jonah and the Whale, three days, the prophetic parallel to Jesus.  He, Jesus that is, in fact referenced Jonah.   When asked for a sign, by some clown in the crowd, Jesus gave a response that many of us interpret, correctly based on his latter explanation, to parallel the crucifixion and resurrection.  He then uses the example of Jonah in another context, when he is explaining that the men of Nineveh will rise up and condemn this generation (whether Jesus meant that generation of his hearers or a future one, or both, is debatable).  He said that the men of Nineveh clearly interpreted the “sign” of Jonah and repented.  He doesn’t say they knew anything about the Whale, and there being no Twitter at the time, it was perfectly reasonable to assume they did not know.  I have always thought that while the Whale story was a plot device on obedience, and a prophecy, it was also a waypoint in the overall mission:  go to Nineveh and preach the gospel.  Now I have read that Nineveh and Israel were enemies, and that going to preach to the enemy was so violently repulsive to Jonah that he went to great lengths to escape it.  Imagine today, we would call him a traitor, that he gave “aid and comfort”.  Put yourself in his shoes, what would you do?  Would you betray the United States to preach the gospel?  We’ve never been put in that position. Yet. Maybe that is how he saw it.

Nonetheless, Jonah did obey, effected by some dark saline cajoling no doubt, and went to Nineveh and began proclaiming the end of the world to his enemy.  Miraculously, upon the opening of his message, those people did the unthinkable and actually repented, changed their ways, reconciled with God.  It does not say that they dropped their enmity of Israel, which apparently did not happen if history is any clue.  They just repented.   Jonah, prepared for the Apocalypse that never happened, went off and pined away for his own death.  The Lord pointed out to him, to no avail, that obedience was important because this was a large city full of many people the Lord did not want to perish—to which point Jonah says something that is astonishing:  "I knew you were going to do that" (save them, that is).  This is how it ends, but all most Christians ever do is jump up and say “Big Fish” when someone says “Whale”.

So is that all that Jesus meant in his references?  Many of the things Jesus said had multiple, or masked meanings, (for example, referring to the Temple and himself simultaneously, confusing those around him).  We have the great benefit of time, history, and interpretation by great learned men and women that those people standing around listening to Jesus did not have.  We consider ourselves superior because of this, not unlike my attitude to my fellow travelers at the Dollar General.  I have heard Christians swoon in how they wished they lived in the time of Jesus, to hear him speak, imagining that they would have been his devout followers.  Not me.  I would more likely have been the Roman throwing dice for his clothes, and lost.  Thank God for the perspective and experience of the saints that came before me. I’m more like Jonah (not in his action, but in his attitude at the end) and am disappointed when the Lord doesn’t condemn my enemies.  So to be disappointed when the power does not go off, or that the Lord does not return to take way my problems, or that I am somehow superior to the people all around me yet all the while taking no responsibility for their welfare (just as the Lord had to make Jonah to do).  We should all hope that the Lord would use us like Jonah and not leave us to our own, selfish, devices.

And yet I think in the words of Jesus on Jonah was a greater, yet more subtle message:  Love your enemies.   No greater eternal way exists to effect that command than to tell those enemies the good news.  That is the sign of Jonah we should be looking for:  When men will abandon all things, personal preferences, national allegiances, likes, dislikes, whatever and love their enemies (however they may define them).  To start, maybe focus on picking that group that you would consider most personally repugnant to your underlying belief as a Christian and make it your mission to love them, pray for them, and help to get the gospel to them.

Or you can be like me, buying a Nutty Bar at the Dollar General hoping the for the Apocalypse to somehow validate you were right all along.  This is called pride and it leads to destruction.

I remain,

Fessler