Recently, we’ve seen lots of water! Nothing like a sea, but I’ve thought about Jonah.
As a child, the account of Jonah fascinated me, how God would make a storm, have Jonah jump overboard, where he is swallowed by a big fish, and then spit out to go be obedient to God.
As a teenager, this account frightened me to think God might ask me to go to Africa (or any other strange land) and then force me to go there.
As an adult, Jonah’s whining about his prophecy not coming true seemed so childish.
But this week, I thought about the man and his motivation.
What might have stirred Jonah to go the opposite direction that God had called him?
Might Jonah have been prejudiced against the people in Nineveh?
Jim Cole, Ed. D. said this about prejudicial behavior. http://www.beyondprejudice.com/under_stand.html
When people have learned certain stereo-types somewhere in their lives, they continue to follow those patterns because it 1) allows them to avoid discomfort, 2) denial allows them to avoid uncomfortable information and 3) when you act the same way, you tend to get the same results.
Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire. No doubt, Jonah had heard of its reputation as the center for worship of the false god Ishtar. As a Hebrew, Jonah grew up knowing that the true God hated idol worship. In fact, Jonah had often been warned of the dangers of associating with idol worshippers.
So every fiber in Jonah’s being had been trained to avoid the city of Nineveh. Jonah could convince himself that he had misunderstood God’s direction since it didn’t fit with what he knew. Besides, it would be uncomfortable to mingle with those idol-worshipping Ninevehites.
When you learned to think of a people in a certain way, it is difficult to see them differently, even after God intercedes.
Jonah did not want to see the people of Nineveh as followers of the Hebrew God. Certainly it was easier to get mad at God than to reprocess his view of the citizens of Nineveh.
But God had called Jonah out of his prejudice into His service. When Jonah resisted God’s request, God shook him up, gave him time and cramped space and limited stimulation to reconsider.
Jonah demonstrates that prejudice is not easily unlearned. Long-held beliefs must be wrestled with individually, and often, painfully.
Most of us have some type of prejudice that we carry, though for most of us it is probably sub-conscious. Just as the Hebrews taught their children to avoid idol worshippers, our parents and teachers taught us for a positive purpose. (Example: Never pick up a hitch-hiker.)
But as we learn to follow Christ, we notice that His example shatters prejudice with His love and grace.
The woman at the well
Calling the children to his side
Accepting an invitation from a tax collector
Healing on the Sabbath
As we learn to recognize our own prejudices, we will be tempted to turn away rather than face the calling of God to go to uncomfortable places.
Jonah’s life lesson becomes more than the story of a big fish, or disobedience vs. obedience, or even complaining to God.
His life challenges me to wrestle with my own pre-conceived ideas and beliefs.