By David Baumann
A Reading from Jonah 2:2-9
2 “I called to the Lord out of my distress,
and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
and you heard my voice.
3 You cast me into the deep,
into the heart of the seas,
and the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows
passed over me.
4 Then I said, ‘I am driven away
from your sight;
how shall I look again
upon your holy temple?’
5 The waters closed in over me;
the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped around my head
6 at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
whose bars closed upon me for ever;
yet you brought up my life from the Pit,
O Lord my God.
7 As my life was ebbing away,
I remembered the Lord;
and my prayer came to you,
into your holy temple.
8 Those who worship vain idols
forsake their true loyalty.
9 But I with the voice of thanksgiving
will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
Deliverance belongs to the Lord!’”
The story of “Jonah and the Whale” is one of several stories in the Old Testament that are familiar to just about everyone, but I’d guess that few people on the street could put the tale into its context. In the first chapter of Jonah, he is commanded by God to prophesy repentance to the people of Nineveh, the long-time enemies of the people of Israel. Jonah is determined not to do so, and flees headlong in the opposite direction, taking ship to get as far away as possible from God and his calling. Of course, that doesn’t work; the ship Jonah is on is pounded by a great storm sent by God. The pagan crew is greatly alarmed and recognizes that the storm has been sent by a divine power. Jonah reveals to them that he is fleeing from God, and it is resolved that to calm the storm Jonah must be thrown overboard. The crew is unhappy about that, but is convinced that no other course is possible, so Jonah is flung over the rail into the tumultuous sea where he is swallowed by a great fish.
At this point, today’s lesson takes over. Jonah has no earthly hope whatever for deliverance; from his point of view he has been pursued by God and punished for his disobedience with death. But still he calls out to the Lord. Jonah has no idea what the fish is about, and in three different ways describes his situation as hopeless. Yet, when there is not the teeniest reason to hope, Jonah provides a stunning and heroic example of turning to God. Of course, he cannot know that the fish itself is God’s means of rescue; it appears to be a ghastly dead end. Even as Jonah prays, deliverance is being provided. Jonah’s pleading is one of the most spectacular prayers in the Bible. He teaches the faithful to never despair.
David Baumann served for nearly 50 years as an Episcopal priest in the Dioceses of Los Angeles and Springfield; he retired last year. He has published nonfiction, science fiction, and short stories. Two exuberant small daughters make sure he never gets any rest.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Isikwuato (Church of Nigeria)
The Diocese of New Hampshire