Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Booth and the Bush

Daily Readings
Job 1 Genesis 37 Jonah 4 Mark 7

Daily Text:
Jonah 4

The Booth and the Bush
There is in this final chapter a conundrum that must be addressed before we may conclude our reading. That conundrum is the one related to the booth and the bush. Jonah leaves Nineveh, much like he left Jerusalem, walking out on the presence of God to another place. Here on the east side of the city Jonah sits down to wait and we may presume to judge. He builds a booth and initially uses is for shade, but during the first day God causes a bush or a castor bean plant, perhaps, to grow and to shade him wonderfully. He resides there under that plant happy about it for the day. But in the dawn of the following day God sends a worm to eat through the plant and it withers. Now when God approaches Jonah he is angry over the growth and death of the plant. Angry enough to die! If this is a trivial issue it is the first one in this prophecy. It is not far-fetched to assume it is not trivial. The booth may have represented the covenant, the temple, sukkāh, in Hebrew [cf. Lacocqque & Lacocque, 183:87 ff.]. When the plant grew Jonah no longed shaded himself with the booth, and when the bush died, he no longer went back to the shade of the booth. Why? What is represented here that is critical to an understanding of this story.
Could it be that Jonah finally saw that the exclusive nature of the Judahite religious vision was no longer adequate? Certainly, that is God’s take on his anger about the death of the bush! Could he have made a move from the covenant to the new vision that God has given concerning his love for the nations only to find that within 24 hours its symbol grows and dies leaving him exposed, feeling foolish, angry and bereft? Possibly. It certainly must be something like that. God’s freedom to exercise his omnipotence in forgiving as well as in punishing has been demonstrated. Could it be that exposed by the death of the bush, Jonah reads that experience as God’s abandonment of Judah and Jerusalem, the temple and the covenant? If so he misread it. He always knew that God was gracious, merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and ready to relent from punishing. Perhaps he could even have accepted that he was also this way with Nineveh, but if he suspected that God had transferred his love from Judah to Nineveh, this he could not abide. That I suspect is the nature of his trauma, his anger, his judgment of God. His integrity is intact; but his trust in God, for the second time in our story, is in question. Perhaps that is the nature of obedience to the call of God, that one must believe in the face of contrary evidence! Until we can make the movement to obedience in the face of contrary evidence, we are simply following our own vision of the nature of reality.

Line After Herbert: Rondel
Madeleine L’Engle

The contrarieties crush me. These crosse actions
Do winde a rope about, and cut my heart.
Good deeds are turned to sudden malefactions.
The end was never guessed at in the start.

How these stern contradictions break apart
The simplest words, and purest actions.
The contrarieties crush me: these crosse factions
Do winde a rope about and cut my heart.

A fearsome faith provides the only cautions.
O dear my Father, ease my smart.
Reality permits of no abstractions.
The whole is visioned in each broken part.
The contrarieties crush me: the crosses’s actions
Do winde a rope about and hold my heart.

Collect for the Day
Cause the plant of justice to spring up soon. Let the light of deliverance shine forth according to your word, for we await Your deliverance all the day. [471:42]


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