A Series on Mercy

A Series on Mercy

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A review of A Journey with Jonah: The Spirituality of Bewilderment

Jonas Cardenas, Logos Editor

In my humble opinion, I think the Book of Jonah is one of the most underappreciated works within the framework of the Biblical Narrative. The story is well-known in that the reluctant prophet is swallowed by a sea creature, vomited, and returns to preach to the City of Nineveh of repentance to great success. Jonah can only earn himself a bad reputation after the whole ordeal, having disobeyed God in the first circumstance, and disapproving of God’s mercy and forgiveness on the people he was ordered to preach.The whole story is comedic and is suitable for a children’s tale, however, it is so much more. In Paul Murray’s (O.P.) brief commentary within A Journey with Jonah, a number of themes and subject matter is taken up and explored in the Jonah story. From a range of topics such as spiritual and psychological experience, to religious prejudice and pride, A Journey with Jonah is rich in material that offers the possibility of spiritual nourishment, that is for everyone open to its treasures, however brief.

One such theme I delight in highlighting is the overturning of perceived expectations and assumptions that we as human beings have. Throughout the Scripture we see assumptions overturned by God, especially in the New Testament with the appearance of Christ. In Jonah, expectations and assumptionsare overturned too, albeit for a different audience and in a different direction. Perhaps we take for granted the Church as a universal body that incorporates all peoples in communion and friendship with God, but in ancient times, a central distinction for religion was between Jews and Gentiles. What the Book of Jonah implies and prefigures before the Christian era is the opening of salvation to non-Jews in a time where sanctity was found in Temple, dictates and laws and thus relegated outsiders away from meaningful communion. This is what Jonah’s stake is in, an anger rooted in God’s mercy and forgiveness on others outside the nation of Israel. Understood in this context, Jonah’s capital sin is a presumption of the mercy of God, albeit in spite of others which he does not want. Another deadly sin that overtakes him is the envy he has for the people of Nineveh, comically the whole city, including animals, exemplifying repentance to merit God’s withdrawal from their judgement and punishment. Perhaps we may be overcritical of Jonah for his failure to take up a seemingly noble and worthy task, when in reality we may be closer in his character than we may think otherwise. A constant temptation we have as Christians is our love, affections, and obedience being a conditional aspect to our accordance, our loyalties only being offered if it is to our benefit. This attitude may cause us to be short-sighted, our minds not comprehending the mercies offered to others without a material cost. It is what plagued the older brother when the prodigal son returned to the father and a feast was given in his name. An irrational anger for the well-being of the other is what poignantly characterizes Jonah and the older brother so much that it is an attitude we would do well to avoid. This is just one subject matter that is taken up in A Journey with Jonah: The Spirituality of Bewilderment. This small book published by Word on Fire is a valuable resource for Christians spiritual seekers in this age and a welcome addition to anyone’s religious bookshelf. A highly recommended read.