Devotion - May 22

[Psalms 106-110 / Proverbs 22 / Jonah 2]

Psalm 107 is one of my top ten favorites, and the verses about those caught in storms reminded me this week of Jonah.

Remember Jonah? Fleeing to Tarshish when the Lord sent him to Nineveh. If you have time today to read all four chapters of the story you won’t be sorry. Jonah is the whiniest prophet imaginable, and I have a soft spot for him and this beautifully crafted story.

This week the prayer (psalm) in chapter two sticks with me. The story does not need to include this psalm to keep the plot moving. It could simply say, “Jonah prayed and the Lord told the fish to spit him out.” We were never taught this psalm as kids (or the part about the worm and plant, either, come to think of it. Clearly the highlight reel in Jonah prefers chapters 1 and 3.)

But here we have Jonah’s prayer. And if you’ll indulge me some poetic license not claiming close exegesis here, I think all of us in this great city would rather be going in any direction except that which we’ve been forced to travel by this virus. Book me a ticket on the first boat out to Tarshish ... and thrown overboard now by this storm, rescued in the belly of a stay at home order that is better than drowning but really not great — on our way to be spewed onshore going back into the very situation we wanted to avoid (life navigating a virus) — while the prophets of “all y’all are overreacting” and those of “thousands will die if we reopen too quickly” each position themselves under their respective plants waiting for the doom that they have predicted to befall the city.

But today, it seems to me, we are still in the belly of the fish about to emerge from our long shut down in a process that may be just as metaphorically messy as Jonah spewed again onto dry land. What if we don’t take the part of the prophet in the city or the hill. What if we take up the prayer of the prophet in the belly of the fish — interceding for God’s rescue on behalf of our city — naming our longing to see worship again in the house of the Lord — vowing thanks and loyalty to the Lord. Maybe this is the prophetic word our neighbors need right now — a prayer for deliverance sounded in the hidden places.

And let’s also learn from Jonah’s not so stellar performance in chapter 4, and remember instead the vow to thanks made in the belly of the whale, no matter the outcome on the hill. As the final verses of Jonah remind us, we serve a God whose steadfast love is concerned with this great city, teeming with people who don’t know our right hand from our left, and many animals...
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