When my previously published poem about Jonah came to mind this morning, I protested! Something about Jonah just evokes protests, but my objections seemed founded and grounded in biblical history – like, what on earth does Jonah have to do with Jesus, especially this time of year?
With Advent around the calendar corner, the only connection I saw between Jonah and Jesus was a 5-letter name starting with “J.” But despite my protest, I pulled up the poetry file on my computer to give the poem a chance to explain itself.
Here’s what came – and overcame my objections:
In all of Bible history, Jonah was the very first missionary sent by God to preach to a people who lived in darkness.
Since it took a whale of a situation (pun intended) to coax Jonah to bring a great light, he clearly went against his own will to save a people he did not want to save!
Jesus did just the opposite.
Jesus obeyed His Heavenly Father.
Jesus went willingly to save people.
In between, God prepared another missionary – Jesus’ cousin, John – to prepare the Way for the Lord.
This call to repentance John the Baptist received also echoes Jonah’s word from God and prepares us to look deeply into ourselves and prepare ourselves for the coming adventure of Advent, the coming of our Lord.
I had a right to be angry!
God gave me no choice. He said, “Go
to Nineveh. Tell them to repent.”
So I went –
in the opposite direction.
I boarded a ship, but a storm came, making the crew unfair game for destruction. I couldn’t let them drown for me, so I sacrificed myself into the sea where a huge whale gulped me down. For three whole days I had time to think about the direction of my life.
At last the beast beached me near Nineveh, and I supposed I should be grateful, but why? My skin had bleached, and my eyes had not a single lash. My hair had dissolved as I had resolved my past!
It would be pure pleasure to tell Nineveh it was going to hell! So I did. The trouble was, they believed me! They repented. And God let them live!
“Why God?” I asked, but He had questions of His own:
Do you do well to be angry?
What did my anger matter to God? It was mine, wasn’t it? I had a right to it. After all, I’d been ordered to a place I did not wish to go. I’d been swallowed by a fish, had to swallow my pride, almost died, and been rescued only to rescue my enemy – a people who had life and hair and skin, while I was breathless, bald, in sin.
What did I have left but anger?
So I fed it.
Waiting in the sun, watching those Ninevehites on the run,
it made me ill to see God’s change of will.
I would have fainted, faded,
if it hadn’t been for a plant’s shading.
But the next day, a worm ate it!
And I wanted that worm to die,
Nineveh to die,
me to die,
but only the plant did, so I grew hot.
Do you do well to be angry?
“Listen, God, ” I said. “My plant is dead. And I do very well to be angry. Maybe I rebelled against Your will, but still, I did what You asked – a thankless task. Now I want to be alone. Let anger comfort me.”
“Jonah,” God said,” you’re just mad about that plant’s untimely death. You don’t give a prayer for your own life or Nineveh’s nor a care for their innocent cows. I tell you now, I made you and them, not on a whim. So stop being angry that nothing went your way.
by Mary Harwell Sayler © 2012, all rights reserved.
Originally published in my 1998 chapbook, Saints Alive, Now & Then, this poem is used with my permission and repentance. Thanks be to God!