Watery Tales 3: The Man Who Thought He Could Fool God

Based on the Book of Jonah

Jonah was a friend of God.  Now one day when he was quietly minding his own business, God said to him: “Jonah.” And Jonah thought: “Uh-oh. I wonder what God wants now. I hope it’s not going to be difficult.” And God said, “Jonah, you know the big city of Nineveh across the ocean? Those people have paid no attention to my grown-up List of Behaviours—all ten of them—and they have been making some really bad choices. They’ve been lying and stealing and cheating and hurting one another, and their city is a huge mess. I’m even thinking of destroying their city and starting over. But I’m going to give them one more chance. And I’ve chosen you to be my messenger and go and tell them what big trouble they are in.”  And Jonah said, “Er, sure, Lord. Whatever you say.”

But what he was really thinking was, “Not if I can help it.” He didn’t want to go to Nineveh, and he particularly didn’t want to tell them this message that they really wouldn’t like. Apart from anything else, he didn’t like the people of Nineveh. So he thought to himself, “I’ll pretend I’m going on a ship to Nineveh, but actually I’ll get on a ship going the opposite direction. I’ll get a ship to Tarshish, and God will never know. Hah!” This was pretty silly, of course, but he did it anyway. Sometimes we do really silly things. So he found a ship, bought himself a ticket, and got onboard. Soon after that, the ship set off for Tarshish, and Jonah heaved a sigh of relief and went down to his cabin for a bit of a snooze.

Well, a huge storm got up. There were strong winds and buckets of rain, and thunder and lightning, and the waves were as big as houses. Well, the sailors were afraid the boat was going to sink. And they said to each other, “If we make the ship lighter, it won’t be so low in the water, and maybe it won’t sink.” So they threw everything they could spare overboard: they threw the tables and the chairs and their suitcases, and even some of the food (well, the broccoli and the sprouts anyway, but not the pizza: you may think throwing broccoli and sprouts overboard wouldn’t make the ship much lighter, and you may be right, but for some reason they did it anyway). But the storm went on and on.  

The captain went down to get Jonah: “Hey, Jonah, wake up. We’re in big trouble, so if you believe in prayer, pray to your God that we won’t drown.” And Jonah woke up and said, “A big storm? Oh dear. I know what this is about. I worship the God who made everything, and he’s sent this terrible storm because I’ve been disobedient to him.” And they said, “You dummy (even though their mothers had told them not to use that word)! Why did you do that? It’s not fair if we all drown because you didn’t do what God asked.” And Jonah tried to be brave and said, “I think, if you throw me overboard, the storm will stop and you’ll all be safe.” Then he waited with his eyes shut tight.

The sailors looked at each other, and nodded to each other. Then four of the biggest of them picked him up—two by his arms and two by his legs—and they swung him (one, two aaaand THREE!) and on three they threw him over the side of the ship (SPLASH!!!), and he sank out of sight. Guess what happened next? Almost at once, the storm stopped: the rain dried up, the waves went back to normal, the sun came out, and it was a lovely day for a sail. And all the sailors said, “Wow: Jonah’s God is really something else.” And they all knelt down to thank God.

Meanwhile, deep down in the ocean, Jonah was sinking and thinking he was going to die when all of sudden a huge fish—maybe a whale, but who knows?—came along and saw Jonah, and thought he would make a tasty snack, and . . . swallowed him whole.

I don’t know where your mom sends you when you have a time out, but it probably isn’t the belly of a whale. And I don’t know how long your mom makes you have a time-out, but it probably isn’t three whole days. That’s right: God gave Jonah a time out in the belly of the whale for three days, so he could think about what the foolish thing he had done.

And when God knew that Jonah had learned his lesson, God said to the big fish—which might have been a whale, but who knows: “OK, thanks for your help. I really appreciate it. You can let him out now.” So the big fish, which might have been a whale, swam as close as it could to the land without getting stuck , and it vomited Jonah out of its belly right onto the beach.

Then Jonah got up, shook himself, looked around, and saw a city nearby. So he thought, “I’ll just head over there and get some dry clothes and something to eat.” And when he got there, he said to the first person he met, “Excuse me, what’s this place called?” And the woman said, “You don’t know? This is Nineveh!” And Jonah said, “Uh-oh!”

Then God whispered in his ear, “Yes, Jonah, I’m giving you a second chance. NOW will you go and tell them my message?” And Jonah said, “Yes, Lord. And this time I mean it.” So he walked into the city and called out, “Hey everybody, God has a message for you. God loves you, but you haven’t been paying attention to God’s grown-up List of Ten Behaviors. You have been making some really bad choices, and as a result lots of people around here have got hurt and nobody is enjoying life. So God is getting ready to discipline you unless you quit doing all this bad stuff.”

Well, when the people heard this, they thought, “Oh no, we’re in big trouble. We’d better get our act together, and stop doing all this bad stuff, and follow God’s List of Behaviours.”  And the King of Nineveh led all the people in saying a big sorry to God and to one another. And God said, “That’s much better. Now I won’t have to discipline you and I won’t destroy your city. And you’ll find that you enjoy life much more if you do what I tell you.” And as a result, I’m not sure they all lived happily ever after, every single moment of every single day. But things certainly got a whole lot better!

Messy Church October 2016