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

Monday, February 06, 2006

Tragic Hero?

Daily Readings
Psalm 39 Genesis 34 Jonah 1:1-16 Mark 4

Daily Text: Jonah 1:1-16

Tragic Hero?
There was a prophet, Jonah, son of Amittai from Gath-hepher as is recorded in II Kings 14:25. This was during the 8th century B.C. However, the scholars are generally convinced that our book of Jonah was written during the 5th century B.C. after the Exile. What the relationship is or was to that historical figure is unknown. What is known is that the story told us in the book of Jonah is not an historical occurrence. The tale is one of symbolic narrative, a parable, if you will, like many of the stories of the Hebrew Testament and of Jesus in the Christian Testament. To say that is another way of affirming the beauty and the magnificence of this story-parable. Like many of the prophets of Israel, Jonah was charged with a message of repentance and redemption that included nations far beyond Jerusalem. In this case it was a message of repentance and hope for Judah’s arch-enemy, Assyria. Our prophet knew God well-enough to know that merciful as he was, it was entirely possible that Nineveh would repent and thus become recipient of the favor of the Lord. What then would happen to his own nation, Judah?
It was too much to ask of any man. It was too much even for God to ask of any man, and so Jonah departed for the southwestern Atlantic coast of Spain, the end of the world as he knew it. There follows the story of the ship boarding, the storm, the lightening of the ship and the sleeping Jonah in the hold of that ship? As in the story of Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac, God has asked too much. Even human beings do not have to obey such requests. Son or nation, either goes beyond the pale. But YHWH is not defined by human perception of right and wrong. And obviously Jonah knows this or he would simply have ignored his call. Instead he acts immediately to place himself in the womb of the sea and as far from Jerusalem and Nineveh as is possible. He sets himself up to become a tragic hero, except that when the mariners reluctantly throw him overboard, God has prepared a redemptive solution—no tragedy will result [cf. 183:38]. The problem for the Greek tragic hero was how to become divine. For the Hebrew, divinity was out of the question. Rather it is how to become fully human, fully who you are! That is theme of the story of Jonah and it only develops with his obedience to the divine, in spite of the divine call’s unreasonable implications.
One additional note: is it possible that the cry of the sailors in vs. 6 is essentially the articulated need of the Ninevites whom Jonah is avoiding? Interestingly, when Jonah is confronted with these Gentile fears, he takes pity and suggests they throw him overboard to save themselves! Fact to face, Jonah is full of concern….

Randall Jarrell

As I lie here in the sun
And gaze out, a day’s journey, over Nineveh,
The sailors in the dark hold cry to me:
“What meanest thou, O sleeper? Arise and call upon
Thy God; pray with us, that we perish not.”

All thy billows and thy waves passed over me.
The waters compassed me, the weeds were wrapped about my
The earth with her bars was about me forever.
A naked worm, a man no longer,
I writhed beneath the dead:

But thou art merciful.
When my soul was dead within me I remembered thee,
From the depths I cried to thee. For thou art merciful:
Thou hast brought my life up from corruption,
O Lord my God….When the king said, “Who can tell

But God may yet repent, and turn away
From his fierce anger, that we perish not?”
My heart fell; for I knew thy grace of old—
In my own country, Lord, did I not say
That thou art merciful?

Now take, Lord, I beseech thee,
My life from me; it is better that I die…
But I hear, “Doest thou well, then, to be angry?”
And I say nothing, and look bitterly
Across the city; a young gourd grows over me

And shades me—and I slumber, clean of grief.
I was glad of the gourd. But God prepared
A worm that gnawed the gourd; but God prepared
The east wind, the sun beat upon my head
Till I cried, “Let me die!” and God said, “Doest thou well

To be angry for the gourd?”
And I said in my anger, “I do well
To be angry, even unto death.” But the Lord God
Said to me, “Thou hast had pity on the gourd”—
And I wept, to hear its dead leaves rattle—

“Which came up in a night, and perished in a night.
And should I not spare Nineveh, that city
Wherein are more than six-score thousand persons
Who cannot tell their left hand from their right;
And also much cattle?”

Collect for the Day
Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. [BCP, 215, Third Sunday after the Epiphany]


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