Jonah was not a ‘runner’

Many don’t realize it but the current political reality in the Philippines is no different from the time of the prophet Jonah. Those who have some biblical or religious exposure have dismissed the prophet Jonah as a modern-day “runner,” someone who was trying to get away from God. “The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai. ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come before me.’” It was not a calling to the priesthood or to be a missionary. It was to tell the people of Nineveh that they were now on God’s radar for their wickedness.

It’s important to take note of the words “has come before me.” That means that certain people have been crying out or praying to God about all the bad things going on in Nineveh at the time. The other point is that all the wicked things going on was seen and considered by God. If you put together all the hate, lies, trolling, disinformation, economic disparity, corruption and immorality and self-righteousness in the Philippines, well HELLO! our wickedness is surely on God’s radar. The difference between Jonah’s time and ours is that back then God was calling them out, sending a messenger to point out that they had a serious situation and if they did not get their act together, God would step in. In the Philippines, we are all so busy pointing fingers or raising our hands in defeat, while others engage in tit-for-tat meme attacks while disregarding the fact that we too are on God’s radar, but no prophets are speaking out.

After God tells Jonah what to do, Jonah heads in the opposite direction. It was this about face that got Jonah mislabeled as a “runner.” Yes, he was doing his best to get away from God, but why? Did God ask him to make the ultimate sacrifice like he did to Moses? Did God show up and scare the living daylights out of him? What was the big deal about going to Nineveh and telling the people God is seriously pissed with the lot of you? Stage fright perhaps, but not for a prophet and certainly not after receiving a “command performance.” In his “folly” Jonah left for Tarshish only to end up on a boat, in a storm, get tossed into the sea and swallowed whole by a whale. How many of us have been in that same spot where, because of our disobedience or resistance to the leading, instruction or direction of the Lord, we ended up in a nightmarish situation? Where doing it our way, where something so simple turned catastrophic? Jonah actually had to be in a life and death situation to get the point. “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.”

So, what exactly was Jonah’s motive for skipping town? It seems that Jonah had a different opinion about what should happen to Nineveh. God sent Jonah to warn the people in the city that they should repent or God would wipe out the city after 40 days. It took Jonah three days to broadcast his message to everyone and as a result the people believed, even the king and nobles. “When Jonah’s warning reached the King of Nineveh, he rose from the throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sack cloth and sat down in the dust.” As a result, the entire city, including its livestock, underwent a period of fasting with the people praying for forgiveness. “When God saw what they did and how they turned away from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.”

And that was the outcome that Jonah expected but did not want. Being a righteous person, a prophet at that, all the wickedness that had gone on in the city of Nineveh was unacceptable and deserved punishment with extreme prejudice. The only problem was that it was above his pay grade. Only God had that kind of power and authority and to the dismay of Jonah, he knew God would not see things his way:

“But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became very angry. He prayed to the Lord, ‘Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? This is what I tried to forestall by fleeing 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. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.’”

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Imagine that level of self-righteousness and presumption that “our” standards are right standards to live or die by. But then again, we here in the Philippines, myself included, are, or could be, just as presumptuous. We see right and wrong, but we don’t see God in the mix. In fairness to Jonah, he knew exactly what God was all about and what would happen. Unfortunately, Jonah did not give himself credit for being such a great messenger and for doing such a great job of turning the entire city around. Instead Jonah sulks in the desert, God grows a shade for him, then a worm eats the vine that provided shade and Jonah deep dives into his anger and desire to die.

“But the Lord said, you have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and eighty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left…” God bless the Philippines!

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