Jonah: a parable of calling

What does the biblical figure of Jonah have to teach us about calling? On the surface, not much. In fact, Jonah may be the great anti-hero of vocation. 

God calls Jonah–and he runs in the opposite direction. God asks him, a good and upright man, to “Go to great city of Nineveh and tell them to end their wicked ways.” Now, to a Jew, Nineveh lay in enemy territory; it was in the country of the Assyrians. Nineveh was the Paris, the Mexico City, the Shanghai of the ancient world, an “exceedingly large city,” a city of “a hundred and twenty thousand people–and many animals,” a city it takes “three days to walk across.”

Maybe Jonah thinks this calling is beneath his pay grade. Maybe he crosses borders with difficulty. Maybe his passport has expired. Maybe he’s just terrified. But he’s quite certain the God of Israel should not bother with the Ninevites and Assyrians, because they’re not part of the “chosen people.” They don’t worship the God of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Rachel and Leah. So Jonah boards a ship heading across a different sea. He thinks he can outrun God’s call.

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