Aloof, or Alongside in the Storm
I am writing, once again, about Jonah and Jesus, not because they are so much alike, but rather, because they are so different. Let me say again that this study is convicting to me personally, not because I am so much like Jesus, but rather, because I am so much like Jonah.
Jonah is fleeing the mission of the God, and boards a ship to Tarshish. The Lord “hurled” a storm upon him (Jonah) and them (the captain and crew) that threatened to break up the ship. The crew resorted to desperate measures, even throwing the cargo overboard, in order to stay afloat. “But Jonah had gone below in the hold of the ship, lain down and fallen sound asleep” (Jonah 1:5)
Jesus is fulfilling the mission of God, traversing the Sea of Galilee with his disciples when a “fierce gale” arises upon them. “The waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion” (Mk 4:37-38).
Jonah is himself the troublesome cargo, untouched by the sailors, and seemingly, himself untouched by their predicament. The sailors “touched” everything else, throwing it overboard, but it is not until later that the one final piece of cargo, Jonah, is thrown over, when they will find relief. At this point in the story, he is untouched by the sailors, and he himself is untouched by their problem, even as he is untouched by the peril threatening the sinful city, Nineveh. Jesus, on the other hand, is subject to the rising water in the boat. The detail in the text “the boat was already filling up” makes this conclusion reasonable. He is, indeed, touched by the rising water, even as he is touched by the needs of a sinful world. He is not the source of the problem, but rather of the solution, and he is not aloof, but alongside them in their predicament.
Jesus is so different from Jonah. The following trilogy of verses from Matthew highlights his compassion for people, even as the story of Jonah highlights his lack of compassion for such people. “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36 ESV). “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” (Matthew 14:14 ESV) “Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” (Matthew 15:32 ESV). We must ask ourselves if we are touched by the physical and spiritual needs of people, as Jesus is, or untouched, as was Jonah.
The sailors approach Jonah and say, “How is it that you are sleeping? Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish” (Jonah 1:6). Similarly, the disciples awaken Jesus and say, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38). Ironically, the sailors approach the unconcerned prophet who is on the run from God, appealing to him to seek the concern of his god. The disciples approach their trusted teacher, who is himself God, and whose very presence is the signal of the concern of God, and accuse him of lack of concern. The contrast plays out as Jonah identies himself as a worshipper of “the Lord God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land.” Jesus, himself the creator of heaven, sea and dry land, simply speaks the words “Hush, be still,” and the storm abates. The disciples are afraid as they exclaim, “who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?”
When we operate in Jonah-like fashion, we do not fear whom we say we fear. We do not serve whom we say we serve. God’s love and compassion do not properly and adequately infect and motivate us. We are terrible witnesses to the reality of God. If we were follow the “mind of Christ” (Phil 2:5), our perspectives and ministries would be much different. Our regard for God would be accompanied by our presence among the very people that Jesus intends to save. We would be not aloof, but alongside. We would be not the source of their troubles, but an instrument in the solution. We would be willing to be immersed in their predicament, resting by faith in the persistent presence of our Lord who is able to simply speak the word and change the shape of the world.
Concerning Jesus, the author of Hebrews says the following: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15 ESV). Both Jonah and Jesus were asleep in their respective boats, but with amazingly different approaches to people, the one aloof, the other, alongside.
Jonah makes me think about Jesus, not because they are so much alike, but because they are so different.