… and there is no whale – the text refers to a “large fish” which is only incidental to the hermeneutical thrust of the story!
It is considered that the story of Jonah is a corrective cautionary tale to the purists of the era of Ezra and Nehemiah and the reestablishment of the Hebrew nation following return from exile (from 538 BCE), where it was required that all foreigners be removed from the reclaimed territory, even wives and children of non-Jewish stock.
Jonah was called to proclaim God’s message to Nineveh (a symbol of the evil empire that had held theJews in captivity). Jonah the purist baulks and flees by boat in the opposite direction. Today’s text finds Jonah being quizzed by fellow passengers and crew in the midst of a raging storm. It seems important to know who is who and, ironically, Jonah finds himself submitting to multicultural reality and placing himself at their compassionate disposal, even to the possible cost of his life. In short, with reluctance on the part of his travelling companions, he is chucked overboard!
Maybe in our fear-driven political climate, we can work out where we are in the boat that is fleeing Tarsus.
And maybe there’s a large fish somewhere waiting to rescue us!
My current running commentary on biblical texts is based on the Australian published With Love To the World: a daily Bible reading guide based on the Revised Common Lectionary. Many in my congregation are using it regularly.