Over 25 years ago now when I heard that there was a Broadway musical based on Les Miserables, the sweeping historical novel by Victor Hugo, I was nonplussed, to say the least. What happened to all the light and airy musicals of the earlier part of the 20th century? How could the epic novel be portrayed in just a night at the theater when it took forever to read – even in translation? And such a gloomy theme!
I was reminded of that feeling when I read today’s first lectionary reading – still about Jonah who never seemed likely to come to a happy ending. (JON 4: 1-11) After having been shipwrecked and saved from (or by?) the whale, but angry at God for not destroying the wicked folks in Nineveh, he built himself a hut in a shady place where God had even provided a gourd plant for him and sat down to see how God would finally punish the people of Nineveh. The next day, however, it seems that God was still trying to test Jonah’s mettle by sending a scorching wind and a worm to attack the plant. Jonah had had enough of trials and told God he would be better off dead. God keeps trying with Jonah who seems unable to let go of his personal distresses for the greater good so God finally goes direct saying the following.
“You are concerned over the plant which cost you no labor and which you did not raise; it came up in one night and in one night it perished. And should I not be concerned over Nineveh, the great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot distinguish their right hand from their left, not to mention the many cattle?”
Unlike the play that comes to a glorious denouement, the book of Jonah ends with God’s question. I think it’s a genius move because it calls us to look at how we would respond to God in the same situation. What would you say? Would God’s challenging question wake you up? How would you feel? Don’t jump to a response; think about it. Even better: read the Book of Jonah. It’s very short and rather entertaining until the last paragraph. See what you learn from asking the deep questions that may arise from your reflections. Blessings on the search!