Jesse's Journey with Jonah
Lessons from Jonah
When I felt a pull towards Jonah, my first thought was about the whale. It seemed like such an uncomplicated story – where was the spin? And the whole book of the bible is only four chapters long!
But then, I did my research. Jonah, to me, is a reluctant prophet. God instructed him to go to Nineveh to tell them that they would be destroyed for doing evil in God’s eyes. Imagine this! I read somewhere that it would be like standing in the middle of Red Square and shouting that communism is bad. Or in Jesse’s case, standing in front of his basketball team – his buddies – and telling them that they were behaving badly through bullying and meanness towards others.
And if you read Jonah past the part about the whale, you will see that the book ends with Jonah’s anger at God. Jonah wanted the Ninevites to be punished. He wanted them to be destroyed. The reason he was reluctant to proclaim their destruction was that he was sure God would not destroy them. God would have mercy on them. And when God did have mercy on them, Jonah was angry. To this, God points out that Jonah was concerned about a bush he did not grow or labour for. So, why then, asks God, would you not think I would be concerned about more than 120,000 persons – my adopted sons and daughters? (My words, not scripture)
I began Jesse’s journey thinking that he would find the strength to tell his basketball team that they were behaving badly – from Jonah who eventually did that in Nineveh. But there was more, I discovered, for Jesse to learn. He learned to fight for what was right. He learned to help those who were marginalized – Malkuno’s family against the giant mandrill and the Israelites against the Ninevites.
Here are some things that are teachable moments about Jesse, Jonah, Shimta, Malkuno and the other characters.
The book starts with Jesse in his bedroom hiding from what he knows he should do – talk to the basketball team and how they were behaving. Do we hide from the things that we should do? The things we know are right?
On page 17, there is a wonderful statement by Malkuno to Jesse about Jonah trying to outrun God. “And besides – where could you possibly run? God created the universe. Could there possibly be a small corner somewhere that God doesn’t know about?” It opens up a great conversation about us being God’s creation and we were wonderfully made. He knows everything about us and He is always looking at us. How can we run from Him? How do we include God in our lives?
Jonah descends continually while running from God until he is in the whale and in the depths of the sea. In the book I exaggerate this – they are descending into Joppa. They descend into the ship. They descend into the whale. It is only when Jonah is in the belly of the whale that he shows fear – pg 91. Finally he realizes that he cannot run from God. Then when Jonah agrees to do what God asks, he begins his ascent into Nineveh. That sense of going down implies misery and the sense of coming up implies joy and expectation. Running towards God is always better than running from God! What will it take for us to turn around?
On page 20, Jesse asks himself, “What must the first time (hearing God’s voice) have felt like?” This is a good classroom discussion on how we do ‘hear’ God’s voice. Most of us don’t actually hear but we feel God’s voice. A tug. A nudge to do something. A thought that pops into our head.
On page 27, Jesse thinks, “that only good could follow such peace.” Peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. When we feel the fruits of the Holy Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness etc – we know that we are doing good in the eyes of God. It is a way to confirm that we have discerned what God would like us to do. Are we aware of those feelings? Do we think of God when we have those feelings?
Jesse fights the mandrill to save Malkuno and his family. Malkuno asks him why he did that. Jesse replies that it was because Malkuno needed him and because he was bigger than they were. Do we stand up for others who need our help? This would be a good discussion about bullying. It comes up often. The basketball team bullies students. The mandrill bullies the smaller monkeys. Zamar bullies everyone.
The Holy Spirit shows up as a breath of wind – Roh. Its presence is seen throughout the book. What are the other signs of the Holy Spirit – fire, wind, dove, breath, etc.
The storyline with Palkha is one of strength in adversity. Palkha has a lame leg and, in this story, is the one with such a deep knowledge of his faith and a keen mind to learn more – but he also becomes one of the heroes of the day in the big battle – pg 143. This should prompt some great discussions around strengths and weaknesses – and the complementariness of friendships.
Also, Palkha is a hero in the way he treats the young men who tormented him – pg 144-145. He took special care of them after the battle to help them through their conversion. God’s mercy works in wonderful ways. In what ways have we offered mercy and forgiveness for those who have injured us?
There is an opportunity for a great discussion about conversion around the sailors – pg 89. Jonah is a reluctant prophet trying to hide from God. The sailors however undergo their own conversion without Jonah – because of the storm and God’s saving grace which was more a byline than a main event. How many God-moments happen in our daily lives that we don’t even notice?
Tumraz and Rebecca remind us of our responsibility to care for the poor. Rebecca and her brother bring food that has been left during the day to those in need. Tumraz finds his calling helping her and doing the same. With a personal invitation to join the network, Tumraz recruits a number of tavern owners to do the same. All Tumraz and Rebecca need to do is pick up the baskets at the end of each day. Great idea! What are other ideas of social responsibility we should be thinking about?
The roadside battle is the culmination of the war between good and bad. Those who believe in God come in all different shapes and sizes. Here we have the monkeys and the Israelites and the Ninevites banding together to fight Zamar and his crew. Good against evil. Good is united by God. Belief in God brings people together – community. We stand together in fellowship. That is, friendship directed towards God. Does your classroom understand that we should recognize that sense of fellowship?
On page 154, Jonah has walked through Nineveh and the people have changed. They have repented and they have converted. They have gone into a state of mourning. “It only took a small number of good people to begin the tidal wave of repentance that overtook the Ninevites.” Discuss ‘small number of good people’. Can a small number of people really make a difference? If so, how? And are there examples in history? In the news today? How would you be heard if you were part of the small number of good people? What do you think needs to be changed right now?
Jesse finds his courage – a gift of the Holy Spirit. He has found it through Jonah and from his friends. What gives you courage?
On page 160 – “Jonah says God has seen the people of Nineveh. It’s time to begin again. All has been forgiven.” Begin again. We are all called to begin again – we must turn back to God and repent. Truly repent of what we have done against His will. Then we must get up, wipe ourselves off and begin again. How many times can we do this? Once, twice? Ten times in a day? One hundred times? There is no limit on how often we can do this. God knows His beloved well. What do we mean by ‘truly repent’? That depth of sorrow. That internal suffering.
Talk about the spider on page 164. Talk about the comparison between Jonah and the spider and God and his people in Nineveh. Refer to Jonah 4:9-11 with the bush. How much greater does God love us – than Jonah loves the spider? Is that why God forgave Nineveh? Perhaps another passage to talk about is when Jacob talks God out of punishing the Israelites. Genesis 18:16-32 God wishes to save us!
On page 165 – Malkuno tells Jesse that Jonah just needs time for quiet and prayer so that the words of God can enter his heart. A great time to talk about the importance of prayer. We all have times when we want God to know we are angry but we also need to be in silent prayer to hear His response. How do we do that? Prayer is about being in relationship with God. Are we building that relationship?
Finally, Jesse is told by Malkuno to have faith - in a God who is merciful. In a God who is forgiving. In a God who loves us. Lots to discuss there!