'Tales of the Unexpected'
Read : Jonah
This little book tucked away towards the end of the Hebrew Bible is perhaps surprising in lots of ways.
It is most likely a story, a parable, that contains many truths within it.
Firstly, we might be surprised with the mission that God asks of Jonah - to take a message into enemy territory.
Then we might be surprised at Jonah's reaction - or are we - he runs away in the opposite direction rather than doing what God asks of him.
Maybe that is not so surprising to some of us.
In the midst of the chaos and the story the sailors who are not believers in the Lord have what could be described as a conversion moment and thanks to this unlikely encounter with Jonah they realise there is one true God and start to worship him. They are saved from death by drowning and start a new chapter in their religious lives.
Then the whale - well, whatever do we make of that ?
A whole new take on this struck me when reading Gerry Hughes book In search of a way - he speaks of a little cell carved into rock on a remote Scottish Island where he spent some time on his own in preparation for a walk from England to Rome. One day it comes to him that the small, dark, isolated, hidden place had been created for just one thing - prayer.
What does Jonah do inside this huge fish - in a dark , isolated, hidden place? He has time to pray and to think and to sort out his thoughts and turn back to God's will.
A surprising place for prayer and reflection, perhaps, but it seems to have done the trick.
And so our reluctant messenger is given a second chance, or is it even a third chance by now and sets out towards Nineveh.
We would probably look at the result of Jonah's mission and be very pleased, after all God was so angry with the sinful city that he had sent Jonah to tell them that they would perish, the lot of them, and then another surprise - this enemy people hear the word of the Lord, heed his word and repent - every one of them from the King to the cattle don sackcloth and ashes - recognising they are sinners and recognising the truth of God's word.
Jonah is a very human figure, isn't he !
Jonah like us fails to understand God's ways at times.
He fails to embrace the fact that God's ways are different from ours.
He gets it sometimes - the days of solitude and prayer inside the fish show that.
But the ending of this story show that not everyone, even one chosen by God to serve and preach his word can fail to appreciate the grace that is poured out by a forgiving God.
As we journey through Lent we might find many opportunities to be surprised by God, we may find little times and places where we can reflect and pray and discern God's will for us - most likely not in the belly of a fish but perhaps in a metaphorical cell or even a literal place of quiet and isolation.
We might find that in some way God might use us, flawed as we are, to bring about something surprising and wonderful. And if that might be the case, hopefully we will heed the warning contained in this little tale - if we are given the chance to see the bigger picture that might help us to understand our wonderful, surprising, gracious God then let us pray that our eyes and minds might be opened to see his will for us, and also his will for others, and let us see the big picture when it is available to us and not focus too tightly in on our own situation.
One little plant dies - thousands are saved and go on to live.
Perhaps this Lent we might be surprised and we might rejoice at how God acts in the world and in the lives of others, looking beyond ourselves and rejoicing in his grace.
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