Sunday, January 25, 2009

Refusing the Call

Readings: Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B

To really understand the context of our Old Testament reading, you have to read the first four short chapters of the Book of Jonah. Jonah is the comic prophet. The LORD tells him to give a dire warning to Nineveh, a large Assyrian city that was a worship center for the goddess Ishtar.

At first, Jonah was having none of it. He knew what fate awaited prophets who told large populations what they didn't want to hear. A holy martyrdom was not one of his desires. So he took off in another direction, buying passage on a ship to Tarshish.

The LORD, however, calls up a storm that frightens the sailors until they figure out that Jonah is a prophet refusing his mission and throw him overboard. This is when "ol' Jonah got et by a whale." This threatens to be the end of Jonah, but it turns out he dies only metaphorically.

When Jonah gives in and sings to the LORD, the whale pukes him onto the shore, a metaphorical, if smelly, rebirth. I should point out that whale puke, also called ambergris, is so good at holding onto a smell that it is refined and used as a base for expensive perfumes. The Bible is silent on whether Jonah takes time to bathe on the way to Nineveh. When he arrives there with his warning, the people, much to his surprise, actually repent and call on the LORD.

Jonah is upset. That was too easy. He wanted to see some fireworks come down on the place. The LORD disabuses him of that notion, too.

In contrast to Jonah, Simon (later called Peter, which means "The Rock"), Andrew, and James all respond to Jesus's call "immediately," which seems to be the favorite word of the Gospel attributed to Mark. If they had thought about it, like Jonah, they might have talked themselves out of it. Following Jesus would be a rough road for them, forsaking family and tribe - the two things by which you live in honor/shame societies, to follow this itinerant preacher and faith-healer.

On the other hand, could they really have refused the call? Sometimes the LORD gives you no choice. Tag, you're it. It's the corollary to Isaac Bashevis Singer's statement that, "We have to believe in Free Will, we have no choice."

So what else is there to do but sing the LORD's praises like today's Psalm and go for it with gusto. After all, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians, the time may be shorter than we think. It's always a good time to get our priorities straight.

No comments:

Post a Comment