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of Sodom, Heres
a Lesson for You
How do we treat a sick person when we only know who he/she is and not who he/she isnt? This could have been the hardest question Jonah tried to answer after his forced landing on Ninivehs shore.
The Assyrian was, in the collective consciousness of the Jews, the source of various threats. He was definitely not a person with whom a Jew could have tried to build a friendship. The Assyrian was the persecutor, the trouble-giver and the plunderer of Israel. Jonah, therefore, was convinced that all efforts to contain the expansionist zeal of this superpower would be useless and immoral, in light of the ambition of the Assyrian empire to keep Israel under its yoke. But Jonah was courageous and willing enough to move halfway from his own prejudices.
Jonah, the Prophet of Convergences
"Go to that great city of Niniveh and proclaim to it the message I give you."
If its true that men/women relate to religion in a way that is connected with their language, then it seems in the light of the text that we, too, should start thinking of a non-sexist, non-racist, non-homophobic, non-ageist and, especially, a humble language that can benefit the Church and the entire society. An all-embracing language that can gather human beings around a common spiritual and social project is needed. The world that is perpetually on the move invites the Church to the same mobility in the forms of her discourses and "canons." It will be of no help if we continue to veil our faces. Women and homosexuals, bisexuals and transgender people, the indigenous and their culture, blacks and Arabs, Palestinians and Jews, children and old people are waiting for a genderless, ageless, raceless, generative invitation from the Church, building more solidarity and love. The humanist gospel from Jonah trusted and passionately cherished the future, the universal with the most personal.
The new "word from the Lord" adjusted the message and the person of Jonah to new socio-political realities of the Assyrian empire which he had until then ignored. Coming from a theocratic system of governance, Jonah met in Niniveh another system that, even though it was monarchical, tended to be more democratic than Israel. We recognize in Niniveh some characteristics of democracy: tolerance, kindness, assistance and philanthropy. These characteristics were common to the people of Sodom who welcomed Lot and his family.
The Ninivites believed in the individuals mission to intervene in the course of public affairs and they succeeded in pressuring political leaders to make official the voices of the people. This is exactly what people did in Sodom, because it was the duty of people to worry, to question, to formulate all kinds of demands, and it was also the duty of the "elites" to satisfy these demands. Lot was among the elite of Sodom. He had been given the right to "elect" a residence in Sodoms land.
The flexibility in Jonahs discourse established links of words and actions between the people and their leaders and considerably helped to discourage the expansionist zeal of war politics.
Are the people of the U.S. going to achieve the same success for both Iraq and the U.S.? Could the opposition to war really be taken into consideration? Could the people of America be reconciled with their democracy? Could they free themselves from unreason? This citizens revival that could probably lead to another intellectual and spiritual revolution will not happen without uprooting old beliefs, such as the invincibility of the U.S. and its role as world policeman and the model for independent and free states.
Even though Jonah continued to oppose the external politics of Assyria, its also true that the welcoming of his message and his person deeply overturned his world. His success largely depended on his methods. The history did not end up there. So far, there is no reason for any hasty triumphalism from Jonah.
Jonah, the Prophet of Ruptures
Jonah was expecting one thing but he received something else. The visionary prophet mounted a moral and a physical resistance to the persistence of his peoples slavery. His reaction is not sentimental or egoistic, but the prophet (he who has knowledge) is fully aware of his peoples rights, which makes him feel like not all the answers to human problems should come forth from heaven. In his revolt, the prophet tried to find the solution to human problems through reason. Its because he is a revolutionary that he is condemned as a heretic. His vision is beyond his time, identifying his actions as part of human history and the struggles of nations.
The course of events proved Jonah right. The politicians didnt wean themselves from the pride, voraciousness and fatness that three days of fasting failed to cure. The economy was flourishing, but it became more and more difficult to control the vassals territories. To prevent any attempt of rebellion or resistance, the empire proceeded in a sort of ethnic cleansing in the colonies, forcing populations from their territories with the aim of weakening their national and ethnic identities. Jonahs ministry took place between 785-775 B.C.E. In the year 722 B.C.E., the emperor of Assyria sent Israel into exile within its borders. But in between:
The conspiracy and political assassinations; the siege and colonialism of Israel by asphyxiating its economy; the nomination of Assyrian military advisors as leaders of Israel; the difficulty of Israel in building a national unity and, worse, the creation of an ethno-fascist state were different steps of the imperialist program in the conquest of Israel.
In the footsteps of Jonah, prophets such as Amos, Oshea and Michea denounced the occupation and colonization of Israel, victim of the geo-strategic expansion of Assyria. Might making right, the preachers protest fell on deaf ears.
Is it not pretensious to believe that one can make or build a nation without its people, who err because of the exile? How can people come together and recognize themselves as a nation without their culture, the cement of this unity?
Jonah foresaw this situation as a revolutionary-visionary and he felt sad. The only alternative he could see was armed resistance.
Jonah, the Armed Prophet
No matter how long the colonialism lasted, history testifies to the fall of the Assyrian empire overcome by the Babylonians, who made them drink from the same cup they had given Israel. The song of victory was sung not by Jonah but by Nahum (2:8-1).
Reading the Book of Jonah is full of interest. He succeeded in shaping an approach that is still thought-provoking in modern days the the same challenge we find in great modern and revolutionary biographies. His religion had freed people from intermediaries by connecting them directly to the divinity. But Jonah is an exception in his day, concerned with the political effects of his message as well as its contents. He is not bringing new principles but hes wondering about the meaning of new social disorders. For its the duty of each one of us to be vigilant concerning our present-day social changes and to respond to them. In his social context, the revolt of the prophet is understandable and we share his frustration when in a democratic society, democracy goes wrong and becomes oppressive for some people or nations. Jonah, our "doctor," was a great man because he found what the sick person is not at all: a damned person.
Our hero deserves our praises. We could only reproach him for his waste of time and energy in his grief and letting defeatism overcome him. But, what we should know first is that the Book of Jonah is a sort of autobiography, and autobiographers never know how the end looks. Nobody could judge by himself the good or bad quality of his/her story. Nevertheless, in our different/common lives, we can trust in good companionship, and God/de is a faithful friend. Friends methods and attitudes might sometimes amaze or frustrate us, and sometimes were hurt, but its often the mutual confidence that helps us to stay in the relationship. Even close friends never react in the same way when were going through a difficult period. Was the Beloved of Israel not a pillar of fire over the heads of the exhausted people and a dry land under their feet after coming out of Egypt? By following the column of light they kept progressing. By digging under their feet they found water for their bodies and souls. To precede the column could have been fatal to Israel in the wilderness. Each time they tried to dig somewhere else, they faced the resistance of surrounding nations. But Jonah preceded the divinity in the manifestation of Her/His repressive power. The lion within him roared so violently that Jonah became a threat for himself. Luckily, God/de stood beside him as an unfailing friend. If the "angels" of Sodom had not preceded God/de and consequently lost the rhythm of Her/His progression, Sodom would have still been alive!
Sharing love and suffering, taking time to know one another and to cry and laugh intimately together is ten thousand more heroic than war crusades against an army of demons. What the angels failed to do, Sodom is still waiting for within the Church. God/de is the model and She/He stood before Abraham and Abraham before God/de, the same as with Jonah, hoping against all hope. Dear angels of Sodom, here is some food for thought for you.