Questions and Reflections

January 2015

A Reflection on Jonah

If someone asked you what the book of Jonah was about, would you mention the whale?

The story of Jonah is an interesting one so knowing about the whale is a good start. The story is filled with details that are an odd fit for a biblical story. The main character, Jonah, does everything in his power to run away from God. When God first calls him to send him on a mission to Nineveh, to the capital city of the enemy of his people, Jonah runs to the sea. He hires a boat to take him to Tarshish, a mythical place far away from God, like El Dorado or Mordor. Jonah runs, thinking that God's power is limited and that the sea would shield him. But it doesn't. God sends a storm that stops the boat in its tracks and Jonah is tossed into the sea. The whale comes and eats Jonah but not to kill him. Instead, the whale is sent by God to save Jonah and bring him to the shore. 

Jonah tries to run from God but God doesn't give up on him.

God wants Jonah to visit Ninevah, tell them that God has seen their evil ways, and that God will destroy them. Now, there's nothing in Jonah's message that asks for the people to change. There is just the warning that something is about to happen. But, somehow, the people of Nineveh do change. They hear God's voice in Jonah's words and they ask for forgiveness. The capital city of the people against Jonah and Israel hears God's words. They listen. And if even Jonah's enemies can listen to God's voice, then everyone is available to God.

The story of Jonah continues after our verses (Jonah 3:1-5,10) today. Jonah hears that God will no longer destroy Nineveh and Jonah gets angry. He continues his pattern of wanting God to do what Jonah wants to do. But God refuses. God isn't in the business of just doing what we want. God is in the business of redeeming, savings, loving, and resurrecting others. And if God is willing to save Nineveh, then God is willing to save us too.  


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A Reflection on Genesis 1

The first reading is Genesis 1:1-5.

The opening words of our Genesis reading today are memorable, aren’t they? These words, “In the beginning when God created,” announce the start of it all. Before this, there was nothing. After these words, everything comes. This feels like the nexus of history’s beginning.

Yet these opening words are not the best translation of the Hebrew. There is a general sense of status, of standing still, in our English translation of Genesis 1:1. But the essence and the emotion underpinning these Hebrew words is more than just an announcement of the start of time. These words contain feelings of freedom and activity that is centered less on time and the start but rather on who starts this all: God. A better translation that gets to this essence is: “At the beginning of God’s creating…”

“At the beginning” is a much more potent expression of God’s creative acts. Rather than focusing on the “when” of God’s action, we are instead turned to see what God does. We’re not just looking at time or seeing the start of a linear profession of history that brings us to today. Instead, the focus is on God and what God does: God creates. God generates. God activates. 

God is active in an ongoing and creative relationship with Creation. God’s story is a story of activity in the past, future, and present. Without such an active engagement with Creation, our gathering together today would just be a remembrance of what God’s done in the past. We would be telling stories of history that would always feel partially distant from us. But we’re here because God is still active in the world and active in our lives. That’s our proclamation, and God’s promise to us. God doesn’t act only in history. God acts today. And, for that, we can say, “Thanks be to God.” 


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