Pending Execution: Our Commentary from the Book of Jonah

Pending Execution: Our Commentary from the Book of Jonah April 29, 2024

Jeff Hood / David Hosier

 

Pending Execution: Commentary from the Book of Jonah

 

 

David Hosier is scheduled to be executed on June 11, 2024.

 

The Rev. Dr. Jeff Hood serves as David Hosier’s spiritual advisor.

 

 

Jonah 1

 

 

God’s word often comes to us in iterations we don’t expect.  Jonah was told to go to Nineveh, a place that he would have never thought that God was telling him to go.  “Why would I go to Nineveh?!?!?”  Sometimes God directs us to spaces and places that leave us shocked.  Our shock does not delegitimize what God says.  Sometimes the love and grace of God is shocking.  The people that Jonah considered to be amongst the worst on earth, God was determined to save.  Why do we get in the way of the grace business?  We don’t understand the vastness of love.  God does not hate anybody.  God is desperately trying to turn all to love.

 

Jonah knew that God was going to forgive the Ninevites.  That’s why Jonah was so mad.  Jonah knew what was coming.  We forget that we’re called to love our enemies.  We forget that we are taught to pray for those who persecute us.  We forget.  God refused to forget the Ninevites.  God refuses to forget us.

 

Would any of us ever want to be forgotten or ignored?  What if Jonah was the one to bring the good news of love and salvation to us?

 

Jonah ran to a ship going the opposite direction.  How often do we try to run from God?  How often do we choose to ignore what God is telling us?  How often do we think that we can hide?  Love is going to catch you.  Love is going to find you.  Love is going to make you whole.  God is love.  That is who our God is.  God is always going to love the hell out of you.  That is who God is.  God’s love is not small.  God’s love is enormous.

 

The primary mistake that Jonah makes is that he fails to make room in his heart for the infinite possibilities of God’s love.  Who can comprehend it?  We can’t.  We just have to make room for the possibilities.  God loves us.  We matter.  We are all God’s favorite.  We are infinitely valuable because God’s love is infinite.

 

Jonah pays the fare.  What a strange addition to the story.  Jonah didn’t just run away from God.  He paid to do so.  In our society of excess, it is so common for people to spend their money running from God.  We buy when we need to give.  We want new when old is enough.  We invest in all the wrong things.  We pay money to run from God.  We pay the fare because we think we know better than God.  We pay the fare to run from our responsibilities to love.

 

The storm began to rage.  Everybody on the ship was terrified.  People start shouting to whatever God they can think of.  When things get tough, we cling to whatever we can get our hands on.  Sometimes we grasp wrongly.  Then again, it seems that God always seems to honor our reaching.  Love always reaches back.

 

Jonah is asleep.  How often when the storm rages are we asleep?  The entire ship needed help.  The entire world needs help.  Yet, we are asleep.  There is an execution coming.  There is a horrific moral moment coming.  How can you sleep?  Unfortunately, most of the time people don’t care if it doesn’t directly touch them.

 

The folks on the ship finally realize that Jonah was the reason for all the chaos.  Of course, they first wanted to escape any collective responsibility.  It’s easy to blame the executioner.  It’s harder to blame the entire State of Missouri that is about to carry the execution out.  Too often, we blame the individual when the collective is responsible.  The other people on the ship are not sinless.

 

Of course, they threw Jonah overboard.  But it’s important to remember that Jonah asked for it.  At this point, it becomes apparent that Jonah is suicidal.  He has had a complete mental collapse.  The other folks on the ship simply just did what Jonah asked them to.  He wants to destroy himself.

 

Is it ever right to sacrifice the one to save the whole?

 

God saves Jonah in the strangest way possible.  Jonah is quickly swallowed by a huge whale.  In a matter of weeks, David is scheduled to be executed.  It’s important to clarify that we believe a whale is coming.  We don’t know whether that will mean that David will be saved by the State or that David will be saved b being caught by God, but we do know that a whale is coming.

 

When the other guys throw Jonah overboard, see him get eaten by a whale and see that the sea has grown completely calm, they all turn their hearts to God…they turn their hearts to love.  Why does it take such drama for us to do the right thing?  It seems that some things are obvious.  For example, it’s always a bad idea to kill people.

 

Even amid the hardest times, we have to have faith that God has a whale…God is going to make a way.  Regardless of what the next couple of weeks hold, God is going to make a way.  Though an execution is coming, God is going to make a way.

 

 

Jonah 2

 

 

Jonah is still inside the whale.  Solitary confinement is like being inside the belly of a whale.  There is nowhere to go.  Water and excrement slosh back and forth all around you.  You are left alone with your prayers and the hope that somebody might be listening.  No sunlight.  Little edible food.  Just haunted memories of what might have been.

 

In his despair, Jonah called out to God and God answered him.  We are praying with all that we are that God might hear us and stop this execution.  The belly of this whale might seem hopeless, but we are clinging to hope.  We are not going to let some whale destroy our faith that God still answers prayers.  Hope never dies.

 

Even in the belly of a whale, life is worth cherishing.  Jonah wants to live.  Yet, it seems that Jonah begins to figure out that life is not life unless life rests in the arms of God.  So, Jonah turns back to life.  We are turning back to life.  We will not let an execution date stop our living.  God is life so life will never end no matter what may come.  Difficulty does not mean that things are over.  We still pray.  We still live.  We still love.

 

Jonah is in the depths.  Sometimes it is necessary to think about how far we have come to know how far God can take us.  The depths are not the end.  In fact, they are only the beginning.  The beginning of God showing us how far that God can bring us back up.  There is no depth that we can go that God cannot find us.  The harder things get the more God gets to show out.  There is no depth that we can go that we cannot turn to God.  Jonah is down right now…but Jonah is determined not to stay down forever.  We feel similarly.

 

There is seaweed wrapped all around Jonah’s head.  He can’t see.  Yet, he knows where to turn to get his sight back.  We must want to see.  We want to see.

 

Jonah is in the pit.  We are in the pit.  But God is going to bring us out of the pit.  No matter what happens, David is going to get out of that pit.  Life is coming no matter what.   Whether we live or die, God has got us.  Whether one is executed or not, God has got us.  There is nothing to fear from the pit.  There is nothing this side of heaven worth clinging to.  We are God’s no matter what comes.  Salvation comes from God.  Salvation is coming no matter what.  We will see God.  No execution is going to shut us down.

 

Then, the whale vomited Jonah up on dry land.  We have no doubt that we all will be vomited up on dry land.  No execution is going to stop the vomit.  In this life or the next, we will be vomited up on dry land.  We are going to get out of the belly.  One way or another, we are going to be vomited up in dry land.  Beautiful vomit awaits no matter what happens in the coming days.

 

 

Jonah 3

 

 

Jonah got thrown up by the whale.  Jonah is sitting in the vomit.  Then, God tells him where to go.  The location is the same as before.  Jonah is to go to Nineveh.  We are all a little dense from time to time.  Even when we’ve gone through circumstances that make it more than obvious, sometimes we’ve got to be reminded where we’re supposed to go.  God is always read to point us to places of love.

 

For whatever reason, Jonah hates Nineveh.  Sometimes feelings are not logical.  Jonah knows that God is going to have grace on Nineveh.  He can’t understand why he must go.  Jonah forgets that love loves no matter what.  Love is not put off by extravagant gestures.  Love is not put off by unexpected journeys.  Love goes where love needs to go.

 

Nineveh is huge.  There are a ton of people there.  Jonah wants to just ignore all of them.  Jonah just wants to let them die.  What type of person sees people in trouble and doesn’t stop to help?  Maybe Jonah wasn’t that good of a guy?  Or maybe Jonah was just like all the rest of us, unable to see past his own selwhale desires?  People matter.

 

Jonah preaches doom and gloom throughout Nineveh.  I would imagine his sermons were terrible.  He had no desire to be there at all.  Still, people heard and responded.  God uses who God wants.  Our abilities mean nothing in the economy of God.  For God is the driver of what God wants, namely grace and love.

 

This juxtaposition reminds me of modern departments of corrections.  We are constantly told that prison is about corrections.  Anybody who has been to a prison knows that such places are about punishment and torture not corrections.  How can the death penalty be about corrections?  How can solitary confinement be about corrections?  How can our modern criminal injustice system have anything to do with correction?  There is no correction in corrections.  They don’t want you back on the street.  The system exists for one to fail.  Change is not rewarded.  Growth is not rewarded.  There is no reward for any correction.  It is the ultimate repeat business.  Think about how much money is made from prisons.  Contracts for bedding, food, medicines and all sorts of other things.  Why would anybody making money from corrections want any actual correction?  Jonah claims that he is preaching for repentance, even though he doesn’t want the Ninevites to repent.  God works despite our systems, our lunacy.

 

The King of Nineveh realizes the error of his ways.  Immediately, he changes.  The King of Nineveh didn’t need a time of extended corrections.  He just changed.  Jonah couldn’t stand it.  He was like most of our society.  He didn’t want to believe that change could happen so fast.  Why are we so opposed to God performing miracles in the lives of people?  God can perform miracles.  God changed the King of Nineveh and through him the entire city.

 

Why can’t we believe that people on death row can change?

 

What happens when a leader admits that they made a mistake?  It sets an example of repentance that others can follow.  Entire societies can change.  The King of Nineveh changed.  Nineveh changed.  God rejoiced at such a change.  We can always turn around.

 

God is merciful.  God is always trying to show us mercy.  Why do we feel the need to execute those that God has shown mercy to?

 

The Book of Jonah is a story of people giving in, giving in to love.  The love of God is so powerful that it will catch you sooner or later.  It grabs you when it touches you and it will not let you go.  Love changes cities.  Love changes worlds.  Love changes even the hardest of hearts.

 

Stop killing people!  Turn toward love!  End the death penalty!  You don’t have to kill anymore!  Love can bring these statements to fruition.

 

We pray that God will open eyes fast enough to stop the execution.  Even now, we believe that hearts can change.  May all eyes be open.  May Missouri repent.  Just as Nineveh did.

 

 

Jonah 4

 

 

The people of Nineveh repented.  Shouldn’t Jonah be pleased?  He wasn’t.  In fact, he was angry.  This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be.  God was supposed to destroy the evildoers.  Why does grace bother us so much?  Too often we confuse the word justice with the word vengeance.  Jonah wanted these folks to get what was coming to them.  God wanted them to turn from evil so that God might shower them with mercy.  Isn’t this what God always wants?  Why do we live for vengeance?  Why can’t we live for love?

 

Then, Jonah decides that he doesn’t want to live.  Can you imagine?  Jonah wants vengeance so bad that he would rather die than extend grace and love to the Ninevites.  This is what happens when one lets vengeance take hold.  Everything that matters is slowly strangled to death.  Mercy is like oxygen, it’s the only thing that can actually keep us alive.

 

God doesn’t hate how we hate.  God always leaves space for mercy.  When we demand that God hates how we hate, we are always going to be disappointed by God’s boundless mercy.

 

Jonah goes out on a hill and waits for the city to be destroyed.  Growing more and more uncomfortable, Jonah grows angrier and angrier at God.  He wanted destruction.  He wanted vengeance.  God’s answer is love.

 

Jonah is struggling so much that he again says he wants to die.  His desire for vengeance is tied to his identity.  When God takes away vengeance, Jonah feels like his identity has been destroyed.  What are we going to be known for?  If we place our identity in anything other than love, we are going to feel like life is not worth living.  Love is life and life is love.

 

Jonah is confused and so are most of us.  We place our identity in so many fleeting things.  Love is all that is clear.

 

Love is always the way over.  Love is always the way out.  Love is always the way through.  Love is always the way around.  Love is always the way.

 

Regardless of what comes, love cannot be destroyed by an execution.  Love will live forever.  So will we.

 

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