On Yom Kippur, I took part in a dramatic reading of the Book of Jonah, as part of the tradition on Yom Kippur. God commands Jonah to preach to the people of Nineveh, to tell them to turn from their sins and crimes. But Jonah, instead of following God’s command, gets on a shit to Tarshish. Why does Jonah run away from God’s command? Did Jonah think that he could physically run away from God, the Ruler of the Universe?
The ship sails, and there is a terrible storm. The shop’s crew learns that Jonah is the cause for God to threaten the ship with the storm, and Jonah urges the crew to throw him overboard. This is a noble thing for him to do, even after he refuses to preach to Nineveh.
After three days in the belly of the giant fish, Jonah lands on the shore of Nineveh, as God commanded him to do; in America, we like to think of ourselves as in charge of our destinies, but that’s not always the case. Jonah’s preaching starts with the rank and file public of Nineveh, a grassroots movement, then it goes up to the nobility and then to the king, who orders a period of fasting and prayer. The people of Nineveh were ready for Jonah’s, and God’s, message.
Jonah is upset that the people of Nineveh repented from their sins-why? You would think Jonah would be proud of himself for doing a great job. The incident with the giant gourd that shaded Jonah-before the worm killed it-let Jonah know that God had compassion for Nineveh, and wanted to give it an opportunity to turn from its sins. That kind of opportunity is the lesson of Yom Kippur; let’s not pass up on it.