Mr Grumpy meets compassion

I am working with Celia Kellett at BBC Radio Nottingham on an idea to present most of the books of the Bible, one a week, during 2011 as part of the celebrations of the King James Bible.The plan is to read some verses from the book, to give a one-and-a-half minute summary, to hear a human interest story which relates, and then include a short discussion making the connections.

Here are the key verses and summary for the prophet Jonah which broadcast last Sunday 17th April (or possibly the week before!) from around 8.20 am:

Verses: from Jonah 1
The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish on a ship to flee from the presence of the LORD.

Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god.

“Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” said Jonah, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”

Now the LORD provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

If the prophets were Mr Men, then Jonah would be Mr Grumpy. His story is set during time of the Kings, when Assyria was the global superpower and Nineveh was its capital. God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and proclaim their wickedness—a bit like telling an Afghan farmer to travel to Washington DC to tell them how evil they are. Perhaps not surprisingly, Jonah refuses!

There has been much debate about what kind of book Jonah is. Some read it has history—but there is an awful lot of comedy in it. Jonah tries to run ‘from the presence of the Lord’. Is such a thing possible? He is clearly on a downward path—down to the harbour, down to a ship, down into the hold, down into the sea and finally down into the belly of the ‘fish’. And Holy Jonah, the prophet of God, is surrounded by pagan sailors—who are a good deal more religious and compassionate than he is. They pray to their gods, want to spare Jonah, and end up worshipping Jonah’s god. In the end Jonah is saved by a belching fish!

Even the Ninevites are unexpectedly pious. When the king finally gets to hear Jonah’s message, he declares a fast. Everyone is to wear sackcloth as a sign of repentance—not just the people, the animals are included too—even the cows repent!

But behind the comedy (as is often the case) lies a truth that is deadly serious. God’s compassion knows no bounds. His invitation to change and live a new life extends way beyond our definitions of ‘respectable’ and ‘religious.’ His kindness and care for others goes beyond ours by a million miles!

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