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Prophet Gone Bad: Reflections on Jonah 3:1-5

Well, not quite. What do you suppose happened to Jonah? Is he still standing on a hill above Nineveh, watching the joy of the Ninevites, secretly hoping the God will drop a low-yield nuclear device on them, ridding his world of such scum forever? Just who is Jonah anyway?

The tale tells us who the bum is. He is any religious person who claims to know God, and to follow the ways of God. This person can quote the scripture, as Jonah does several times, can pray up a storm, or in Jonah's case after a storm in a fish's belly, can imagine herself as a prophet of God. But in reality this person is the rankest of hypocrites. Scripture serves only their purposes, and God is their lap dog, called upon to affirm the narrow things they already believe. In short, Jonah is a prophet gone bad, a religious mountebank, an ecclesiastical huckster. Unfortunately, Jonah did not die a long time ago; he is alive and well and living among us, and too often, in us.

Whenever we read the Bible and use it to exclude, deny, and reject living creatures of God, there is Jonah. Whenever we say we will follow God — "Here am I, Send me," we sing — but in fact follow our own bigoted desires, our own narrow-minded ways, there is Jonah. Whenever we hope that persons who are not like us, who do not sound like us or think like us or act like us, should be removed from the earth by some edict of God, there is Jonah. Jonah, like the Frankenstein monster, keeps getting reborn to wreak havoc on the world that God has loved and redeemed.

"History is true once, while a story is true forever." So that is why it is crucial to see and preach the story of Jonah, for that is precisely what it is.

1/19/2015 5:00:00 AM
John Holbert
About John Holbert
John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.