Who Tells Your Story?

Scripture Focus: Jonah 2.1
From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. 2 He said: 
“In my distress I called to the Lord, 
and he answered me. 
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, 
and you listened to my cry. 

“You have no control. Who lives? Who dies? Who tells your story?” — Hamilton, by Lin Manuel Miranda

Reflection: Who Tells Your Story?
By John Tillman

We’ve been pretty hard on Jonah in most of our writing. How could we not?

He gave a pass to Israelite corruption but condemned Nineveh. He thought God was wrong to be merciful to his enemies and was so mad about it he wanted to die. His prayer from the belly of the beast (from today’s reading) is beautiful, but even that was mostly self-focused. After his miraculous escape from the fish (and perhaps resurrection), he obeyed only the letter of God’s command. He hoped the message of repentance would fail. His heart longed for destruction rather than mercy.

Many scholars believe another scribe or chronicler wrote this book, perhaps using Jonah’s own accounts as a source and quoting Jonah’s prayer. However, early Jewish and Christian scholarship maintained that Jonah was the author.

What if this unflattering account of Jonah was written by him as an act of repentance?

Jonah is the only account in scripture in which the “title character” could be considered the villain. If it is written by Jonah, it is a remarkable work of confession. The text does very little to build sympathy for Jonah’s actions. Information could have been included about how wicked and evil Ninevah was, however, Jonah gives us none of that. If you researched the brutality of the Assyrians you might sympathize with Jonah, but the text itself makes no plea to nuance.

Lessons from Jonah go beyond “obey God” or “love all people.”

Academically, I lean toward the text being compiled/written by someone else but artistically and emotionally I hopefully believe that Jonah wrote it in contrition. Jonah is a great prophet to study in our age of outrage. We want people to see the nuance in our position and justify all of our worst takes and actions.

But what if someone unsympathetic told our story? What if we told our story with brutal, unflattering honesty? What if we dropped every attempt to justify our sins or dark motivations? Our story might sound a lot like Jonah’s.

However, Jesus writes us a new story filled with his righteousness instead of our sinfulness. Our story becomes Jesus’ story and his becomes ours. We can afford to be unsympathetically honest about our sins because Jesus is the anti-Jonah, giving his life in exchange for his enemies and considering such suffering “joy.” (Hebrews 12.1)

Confess your story. Then let Jesus tell his version of it.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Your testimonies are very sure, and holiness adorns your house, O Lord, forever and forevermore. — Psalm 93.6

Today’s Readings
Jonah 2 (Listen – 1:20)
John 14 (Listen – 4:13)

Read more about Confession as a Crucible
May the flames of suffering that some may think will destroy us be used by your Holy Spirit to purify and strengthen us.

Read more about From the Belly of the Beast
When in the belly of one of the beasts of this world, may we turn to prayer…more powerful in the dark than it ever was in the light.

From the Belly of the Beast

Scripture Focus: Jonah 2.7-9
“When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.
“Those who cling to worthless idols
turn away from God’s love for them.
But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.

From John: In this week focused on thankfulness, many find themselves isolated from loved ones rather than gathered to give thanks for and with each other. When isolated, in the belly of one of the beasts of this world, may we turn to prayer and find it more powerful in the dark than it ever was in the light.

Reflection: From the Belly of the Beast
By John Tillman

Prayer and thankfulness seem natural around a table of friends and family. But prayer can be even more powerful in the dark places of our lives.

Origen, writing of prayer, speaks of Jonah’s faith that, even though swallowed, as it were, by death, he could be heard by God:

Jonah, because he did not despair of being heard from the belly of the monster that had swallowed him, was able to quit the monster’s belly and complete his interrupted prophet’s mission to the Ninevites. How many things could each of us recount should he choose to recall with gratitude the benefits conferred upon him and to offer praise to God for them!

Let him, moreover, who has learned by experience what manner of monster that which swallowed Jonah typified, if he should ever come to be in the belly of the monster, pray in penitence.

Analogies to the prophet aside, we may not be in the beast’s belly because of wrongdoing, but because our world is filled with beasts. But regardless of how we came to be there, our prayer may be sharpened, amplified, and have a greater effect on our hearts. Origen continues:

We know that often fugitives from God’s commands who have been swallowed by death, which at the first prevailed against them, have been saved by reason of repentance from so great an evil, because they did not despair of being able to be saved though already overpowered in the belly of death: for death prevailed and swallowed, and again God took away every tear from every face.

If you have not been there yet, sooner or later we all experience the belly of the beast—sinking in the darkest hole of our lives, in deepest, grave-like depression. In the belly of the beast and in the grip of death, we can, as Jonah did, find in prayer what we could not find with our feet on solid ground.

As Origen says, “Souls that have long been barren but have become conscious of their intellects’ sterility and the barrenness of their mind, through persevering prayer have conceived of the Holy Spirit and given birth to thoughts and words of salvation full of contemplated truth.”

May we find God’s love. May we find courage. May we find purpose. May we find God, waiting there for us. Ready to wipe our tears and carry us onward.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you; I have said to the Lord, “You are my Lord, my good above all other.” — Psalm 16.1

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Jonah 2 (Listen – 1:20)
Luke 7 (Listen – 7:14)

Read more about Praise in the Midst of Trouble :: A Guided Prayer
A common note ringing from scripture is praise—most particularly praise from those in the midst of, and not yet rescued from trouble.

Read more about In a World of Trouble, Peace :: A Guided Prayer
There is much in our world for us to mourn, Lord. May we not neglect weeping in prayer.