Our first reading today is the middle part of the story of Jonah. In the first part, Jonah, who hated foreigners, sailed west, trying to escape after God had told him to go to Nineveh to save the people there from destruction. When God detained him by bringing a storm upon the sea, Jonah admitted that he was the cause of the storm, and he allowed the crew to save themselves by throwing him overboard. A whale swallowed him, then after three days, the whale erped him up on his own shore.
Today’s passage takes over from there. It follows Jonah to Nineveh where he walked through the streets, calling out, “Three more days and Nineveh will be destroyed!” But his preaching brought the people there to repents and gain pardon for their sins. God let them escape from destruction.
In the third part of the story, Jonah went out on a hilltop where he pouted, because he had wanted to see Nineveh destroyed.
Back in the late forties I idolized an older student named Eamon. But after he was sent to study in Rome, he wrote an article that said Jonah could not have been swallowed by a whale. That turned me to disliking him. I thought, “What kind of a priest is he, if he doesn’t believe the Bible?”
Since then I have found that Eamon was right. The story of Jonah was written as a comic tale in 400 B.C. Back then, the people of Jerusalem had come to hating foreigners so much that God inspired a Jewish humorist to compose this story that ridiculed people who hate foreigners.
(When I was ten my father saw a news item that said an intact whale had been brought by rail from New Orleans to St. Louis, and he brought my sister and me down to look at it. We crawled into its mouth and looked, but the opening to its throat wasn’t big enough for Jonah to have gotten down through there.)