In today’s reading, we learn how Jonah was sent to preach to the people of Nineveh, and by reforming them, to save them from the Lord’s destruction:
The word of the Lord was addressed to Jonah: ‘Up!’ he said ‘Go to Nineveh, the great city, and preach to them as I told you to.’ Jonah set out and went to Nineveh in obedience to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was a city great beyond compare: it took three days to cross it. Jonah went on into the city, making a day’s journey. He preached in these words, ‘Only forty days more and Nineveh is going to be destroyed.’ And the people of Nineveh believed in God; they proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least. God saw their efforts to renounce their evil behaviour. And God relented: he did not inflict on them the disaster which he had threatened.
Well – great. Terrific. But what, if anything, does this say to queer Christians? The key lies in seeing the greater context, the prequel. Jonah had not wanted to go to Nineveh, at all. He tried to resist the Lord’s command, and boarded a boat to sail away, in the opposite direction. But the Lord’s command is not so easily resisted, and after his familiar troubles at sea, he ended up washed ashore – on the coast of Nineveh. That is where today’s reading begins.
God said to Jonah, “What gives you the right to be upset about the castor oil plant?”
He replied, “I have every right to be angry, to the point of death!”
Adonai replied, “You feel sorrow because of the castor oil plant that cost you no labor, that you did not make grow, that sprouted in a night, and that perished in a night. Is it not right, then, for me to feel sorrow for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than 120,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, to say nothing of all the animals?”
The ability to protest is an existential leap into self-being. Culture is accustomed to pronouncing its judgments and investing in the building of legal and social controls to buttress the so called self-evident truths of the status quo. To raise a protest in such times is to invite the slings and arrows of an angry society. Yet, it is also to establish a self beyond the repressive forces of rank-and-file thinking. It is the movement from life with the herd into the authentic life of the self as defined from the inside out.
The voice of protest is the arrow strung on the tension of injustice, released to fly against the battlement of indifference. This solitary arrow finding its mark creates the chink by which the edifice of prejudice is weakened and falls under the weight of its own pretenses.
The voice of protest in the book of Jonah is the voice of the Sacred. The object of the protest is the Divine’s own prophet.