In his reflection on today’s readings Fr. Karban reminds us that the Bible is actually a library containing many different literary genres. Our sacred authors were certainly inspired to convey their ideas of how God works in our lives, but like all authors, they were free to employ different literary categories to convey those theologies. They opted for songs, poetry, myths or history. The author of Jonah (our first reading today) chose satire.
According to Webster, “Satire is the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity and vices.” The theological question in the Book of Jonah doesn’t revolve around the story’s humor, irony, exaggeration or ridicule; it’s centered in the stupidity and vices present in the ancient Jews for whom this book was originally composed.
Our ancestors in the faith fell into the trap of creating mental images of the divine being with whom they related. They might not have known what Yahweh looked like, but they were fairly certain of God’s behavior patterns. They were convinced that God should and would act in predictable ways. Yahweh’s personality was predetermined, leaving little or no room for change; no differences to discover. This is the vice the author of Jonah satirically attacked.
The fictional character Jonah represents those Jews who have squeezed Yahweh into their mental box, yet are forced constantly to deal with Yahweh’s successful escape attempts. How do you relate to a God who refuses to stay imprisoned in our ideas of God? When Jonah finally goes to Nineveh and delivers Yahweh’s message of destruction, the people of Nineveh repent. Yahweh then “repents of the evil that he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out.” Nothing is more devastating for a prophet than to have God change the word the prophet had originally been commanded to deliver.
I imagine that all of us, at times, have had to change our words to others, forced to do so for the sake of maintaining a meaningful, life-giving relationship. Yahweh is no different. If we’re really serious about relating to God, we’re forced to provide God with room to change and evolve as our relationship changes and evolves.
The authors of Jonah were committed to helping their communities fall in love with the person of Yahweh, not with a predetermined image of Yahweh, no matter the problems such a relationship entailed.
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