Sometimes we know a story so well, we no longer know it. It becomes a parody of itself, a stereotype of its own meaning.
Think about the book of Jonah we read from today.
Just saying the word Jonah, half of you are already thinking of Sunday School, or Pinocchio’s whale, or the tried and true phrase, “It’s a big fish, not a whale,” as if that’s the important point to the story.
And in doing that we miss really big, glaring pieces of this biting funny, weird, prophetic, story that fits better in a George Carlton stand-up routine or a Monty Python Skit than in a Sunday School classroom.
We miss that Jonah’s name means Dove—as in he’s a really upstanding peaceful guy.
We miss that he runs to Spain in the West when God tells him to go to Assyria in the East.
We miss that the Pagans are the only people who praise God without their finger’s crossed.
We miss that Jonah has experienced the destruction of Israel at the hands of the Assyrians and doesn’t want God’s mercy extended to the enemies of his nation, he wants revenge.
We miss the strange man covered in fish barf speaking in a foreign tongue, and getting results.
We miss the ridiculousness of all the Animals in Assyria putting on sack-cloth and pouring ashes upon themselves.
We miss just how obsessively suicidal Jonah is.
We miss the bizarre ending with those poor animals bearing Jonah’s wrath.
We don’t hear the message of Jonah any more.
We need to hear Jonah with fresh ears in order to hear it at all.
Pastor Grace—a Retelling of Jonah
Did you hear the one about the Pastor from Lower Manhattan who God called? Her name was Grace.
God said to Pastor Grace, “Go to Mosul, Iraq, to the extremists there, and I will tell you what to say to them.”…
And Pastor Grace took the first plane to Beijing, China.
And as they flew along there was greater and greater turbulence and while everyone was freaking out about impending doom… Grace was spread out across several seats snoring away.
On that plane were Communists Party leaders, every last one an Atheist… and as the plane went into a tailspin they all began to pray.
And one of them shook Pastor Grace awake and said, “What do you do? What is your faith? Perhaps you could join us in prayer.”
And Grace, heavy sleeper that she was, mumbled to the Atheist, “Oh, yeah… I’m a Christian, a Pastor, a Minister of the Church of Christ, I have Christ’s authority”…
And the Atheist responded, “Why in God’s name aren’t you praying for our safety?”
And Pastor Grace responded, “If you fling me out of the plane you all will survive.”
But the Atheists, good folk that they are, talked amongst themselves and responded, “It would be unholy and against God’s law to throw you to your death.”
But Pastor Grace insisted they throw her out... and as the ground grew closer and closer they finally gave in and threw her out the emergency exit.
And at that very moment, the plane leveled off saving the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party—Atheists every one… and they rejoiced and praised God every last one of them.
And Pastor Grace careened down toward the ground… but at the last moment a stork swooped in and picked her up.
She clung to the stork’s feet and neck, and prayed to God, saying:
“O’ Lord Jesus, you know how faithful I am, that at all times, whether I’m awake or asleep, I call on you to protect me in all things… that when I’m in trouble you lift me up on eagles wings… that I, and I alone rejoice and praise you, even when the ground rushes at me.”
Then the LORD spoke to the stork, and it flung Pastor Grace into a manure pile on the outskirts of Mosul, Iraq.
“Get up and go into Mosul, into the very center of the city” the LORD said to Pastor Grace.
And she walked and walked through the town, and when she neared the center she shouted, without God’s prompting and in English—while still smeared in manure, “Three days from now God will destroy every last one of you!”
And the people of Mosul, every last one of them, believed God, and repented by fasting, and mourning, and looking downcast day and night... Even the cats and dogs and cows fasted and mourned and wore cute little vests that had embroidered on their sides, “Sorry about that.”
And news of this reached the head of ISIS in Iraq and the head of Al-Qaeda in Pakistan—they too repented and decreed that every member of their organization, and every person in territory they controlled, were to repent as well.
When God saw this, how they turned away from evil… God turned away from the evil He was to bring upon them.
But God’s grace and mercy deeply displeased Pastor Grace and she became angry.
“Lord Jesus, this is why I tried to flee to China, I know you—you with your mercy and grace and generosity… I knew if I showed up doing what you asked me to do you’d be merciful. I’m so angry I want to die.”
And with that she stomped off and camped out in a hut she made for herself right outside Mosul… waiting to see what happened next, hoping against hope for blood and destruction and death and terror and violence and all kinds of mean nasty things.
It was very sunny in Iraq, and she didn’t have sunglasses, which made her even grumpier. But then in the middle of the night a spider built a web on the side of her hut, and the next day it kept the sun from Pastor Grace’s eyes, and she rejoiced at that!
But then, in the night, a wind blew and the web and spider floated off elsewhere.
“Lord Jesus!” she prayed in the morning when the sun came out, “Why have you taken away that web? I’d rather be dead than alive!”
And God said to Pastor Grace, “Really? You’re freaking out about a spider web? You, who were perfectly okay with the smiting of thousands of people, you who wanted to see blood and destruction and violence and all kinds of mean nasty things, all because these people remind you of the people who knocked down the twin towers, are worried about that a web? Seriously?”
Without a second thought she responded, “Yes. Yes I am freaking out! I’m angry, angry enough to die!”
And God responded, “You mourn a web, yet condemn a whole city, a whole country, a whole people—don’t you see how much more substantial all these folk are then a web. You don’t fit your name, you’re not very gracious—you’d even condemn all those mournful little animals to die.”
Word of God, Word of Life.