A Tragicomical Essay on the Christian Tragedy
This is a tragicomical version of Jonah and the whale. I’m sure most people would agree that this historical account in the Old Testament is fictional and meant to inspire and not to be taken literally.
The message most think about in reading this story is one of obedience to God. In this version, there’s another one just as important called, “Don’t shoot the Messenger!”
As the scene opens and after the storm and after being swallowed alive and sent to a place that has no oxygen, Jonah is brooding. There are fish parts floating around and he looks at the fish heads and says, “What shall I do? I don’t want to speak to the people of Ninevah. They’re so bad, they make this place look, well…not so bad.” He looks around. “I could get used to it.” His stomach growls. “Maybe I’ll cook up some chitlins or somethin’.”
He begins searching the area for firewood, scratching his head. Suddenly, a mighty hum bellows forth from the whale’s belly, and a Voice booms, “Why you nincompoop!”
Jonah looks up, “Who me?”
“You don’t see any other whale food looking for firewood, do you?”
Jonah looks around to make sure, “No.”
“Why have you disobeyed me? Did I not insist that you speak to the city of Ninevah? You have sinned far worser than the thousands within that city. Are they in the belly of a whale? No, but here you wander about, looking for firewood in a dark and fishy place. What does that tell you?”
Jonah responds, “That I should move to Ninevah?”
“No, you fool! You must go and tell them that bad things will happen to them if they don’t do the good things, they should do in doing good.”
“Yes, but what if they don’t believe me when I tell them the bad things are really bad and the perception of good that they do is really badness, candy-coated with false goodness?”
“Then I will destroy them for not believing you and doing the good things they should do in doing good.”
Jonah said, “God, you make it sound so easy but I’m not sure they will repent. What if they hang or stone me instead?”
“Then I will destroy them.”
“Would that be before or after–?”
“Faithless coward! Either do as I say or remain in this whale’s belly, WITHOUT firewood, I might add. You didn’t think I was going to make it that easy for you, did you?”
So, as the story goes, Jonah relents, and God causes the whale to burp and spew Jonah from its mouth. This, in turn, sends a reflexive action in Jonah to swim faster than ever in case there are other whales or hungry sharks nearby.
Somehow, he was miraculously able to swim many miles from the deep blue ocean of whales to an inland shore. The Bible doesn’t speak of how many days it took but our best guess is three—three magical days of fun-filled sea water, starvation, and spasms.
Once ashore, Jonah is struck with the realization that he was far better off in the belly of that whale than on this dry and barren land. “The people of Ninevah will never respond,” he thought. “I have a better chance with the whale.” Still, he was too tired to swim back to sea and slept on a warm rock called The Flint. He slept and slept and slept and God waited and waited and waited.
Finally, many hours later, God caused lightning to strike the Rock of Flint which in turn, caused Jonah’s beard to smolder. He sniffed a little and rolled over. The smoldering turned to fire, and he jumped up, running to and fro for a brook or vessel of water.
He found such a vessel from the last guy who disobeyed God, was swallowed by a whale, swam many miles, and slept on the Rock of Flint. “Now that’s Christian kindness!”
“JONAH!” Jonah dropped to his knees and covered his wet face. “Get up you imbecile and do as I command!”
Jonah recognized the Voice and trembled. “Am I the only one on earth to do your bidding? Why not send another more willing recipient to be decapitated and mutilated by a people who have no respect for the Living God?”
“BECAUSE,” said the Voice, “I am the great I AM and what I Am is Great. The Great I Am wants Jonah to go to the city of Ninevah, not Tom, Dick, or Larry. Comprende? Now, get moving!”
Jonah walked many miles kicking rocks all the while. It wasn’t fair that he should have to approach the city alone without horse, camel, or friends. Surely, God could understand the plight of a fellow without companions and resources for such a dangerous task.
Soon, he came to a large moat filled with water and the bodies of those who had gone before. His knees shook uncontrollably as the city of Ninevah lay just beyond the Moat of Death.
All hope of a future fled before his eyes. Would he ever live to tell the tale, of Jonah and the Whale?
The draw bridge lowered, creaking, and groaning with the irons and chains of a city that would surely break him to bits before listening to one peep from his bosom.
A few soldiers crossed and passed by as he wiped the sweat from his brow. Salesmen passed and a few more bodies were cast into the murky waters of death.
Jonah, knees still shaking, walked across the Bridge of Doom and was greeted by a big burly man.
“Halt! Who goes there?”
“The name’s Ju-Jonah,” he replied.
“What business have you in the city? And don’t say you are a prophet, or we will kill you.”
Jonah gulped, “I have personal business with the king.”
“No one sees the king unless they are a prophet.”
“Oh,” said Jonah. “So, the king will only see a prophet but if I say I’m a prophet, then you’ll kill me.”
“Yes,” the burly man growled. “It’s not enough to say you’re a prophet, you have to be one.”
“So, how does one prove he’s a prophet without saying it?”
“I don’t know. That’s for the king to decide.”
“Then may I implore you to see the king?”
“That depends. Are you a prophet?”
Jonah scratched his head. “Look, sir, I’m just a simple servant of the Most High and I’ve come to bring an important message to your king.”
“Ah ha!” the burly man laughed and slapped him on the back. “Why didn’t you say so? We love messengers. Come on in!” He put his hand over his mouth, “And don’t forget to check out the cuties on the corner if you know what I mean.” He elbowed poor Jonah, spit on the ground, and walked toward Hubris Hall, a local think and drink tank.
A young man ran out to greet him. “Sheriff, the king sent down another live one. What should we do today?”
The sheriff pulled out a list. “Let’s see, the alligators are full. Are the people in the mood for a stoning?”
The young man grinned, displaying a few missing teeth. “When aren’t they, Sheriff? Back Alley Brutus has been waiting for weeks!”
Jonah’s stomach was weakened by the young man’s words as he wandered on. He thought of leaving this wretched place. God’s directive to speak to the people of Ninevah was ludicrous. He already sent Tom, Dick, and Larry, and none of them lived to talk about it. He was a bit dumbfounded, too, by the sheriff’s response but concurred that God must have spared him somehow.
Jonah was a bright fellow and as he looked up and down the road to and fro, he noticed the town was rich with much sin. People were sinning everywhere. Sin here and sin there. He knew God was displeased with it all and seeing how He saved his neck at the entrance; Jonah grew bold enough to continue.
He passed the entrance to the palace and noticed it was heavily guarded. A few men eyed him suspiciously as he walked by without stopping. He imagined a ring of fire around his neck and the people dropping to the earth, pleading for God’s mercy as he spoke through the flames.
The infallibility of the notion was the fact he knew they would never respond to anything less. Their minds were full of surreal expectations of a prophet with no capacity for solid and rational persuasion.
“No,” he thought, “the next best step would be to take the nearest exit and let God destroy the city. Why do I care? I’ll just make sure I bring firewood the next time I get swallowed by a whale.”
He walked to the far corners of the city looking for an exit, but each gate led to a cliffhanger of alligators and the Moat of Death. That is, save one, the Bridge of Doom.
By this time, the dooms keeper sheriff was sharpening his sword and Jonah quietly tiptoed by without a peep. “No sense bothering him at a time like this,” he thought.
Further down the road, he moaned and groaned. “Who would have guessed there are eleven gates in this city and only one way out?”
Soon, a mighty wind began to blow, and Jonah gazed up into the starry heavens. The clouds rolled together and formed a finger pointing down at him. Jonah shook his head in disbelief and was struck with a sudden idea.
He ran up to an old man playing the flute and entertaining the public with his snakes. Jonah stopped short when he saw the snakes rising higher and higher. The old man stopped playing and the snakes dropped like dominoes.
“Better watch out boy. They don’t like good company.” Jonah looked down and a few were hissing. “Don’t worry, they’re still in a trance. Been playing for a while now. Guess we got a couple minutes ‘fore they come out of it.”
Jonah hesitated. “Come closer boy so I can see you. Ain’t no room for prudes in Ninevah.”
Jonah stepped closer. “Don’t look like you’re from around here. City don’t like strangers, boy. Been here twenty years and still don’t know nobody. See the same people walkin’ by every day throwin’ a quarter or two.” He looked past Jonah’s frame into the sky.
“Do you see it?” Jonah inquired.
“See what, boy? Rattler got a hold ‘a one of my eyes.”
Jonah looked up and the finger was gone.
“Once in a while, I see the Finger of God pointin’ down.”
“You have seen it!” Jonah was elated.
“Yeah, but I don’t tell no one.”
“Why? If the people see a sign, then they’ll believe me when I tell them I’m a prophet sent from God.”
“Shh! Don’t say that word, boy! The last p-r-o-f-e-t who did got himself in real trouble. Sheriff said since he had the Finger of God, he wouldn’t be needin’ his own and they cut off ever’ one of ‘em.”
“His name wasn’t Larry, was it? Jonah felt defeated.
“How did you know?” The old man asked, scratching his head. “Word gets around fast. Must be in the water.”
“Didn’t they see the sign?”
“Boy, I’m half blind and I saw it. It was there and then it was gone. There was a feast and a big celebration and a couple of days later, they arrested him. See, a good sign has to stay and keep remindin’ ‘em God’s bigger and mightier than the best of ‘em. Meaner too. A sign that fades away is bad cause after a while, they forget about it or don’t care no more.”
The old man looked down at his snakes. “Best be movin’ on now. Snakes are comin’ out of it. Gotta play or they’ll be leapin’ at my throat ‘fore long.”
Jonah slowly backed away. “Remember what I said, boy!” The old man put the flute up to his mouth and quickly swayed to the left as a snake lunged at him. The old man cackled. “Thought you had me, didn’t ya?” The notes of his flute quickly floated through the air and Jonah walked on.
The streets of Ninevah seemed deathly quiet as the afternoon melted into mealtime. That is, for everyone except Jonah. His stomach rumbled and he thought of going back and asking the old man for a sip of snake soup.
How he wished someone would offer him a bite to eat! It seemed indecent that a prophet should starve to death before he ever got a chance to deliver a message that would get him killed.
How he longed for the Rock of Flint and a tasty fish by the fire. Fire? He thought more deeply about fire. “I could frighten them into submission with fire, couldn’t I? But how?” He flipped a twig back and forth between his fingers. “If I could frighten them long enough, I could speak God’s message and then flee from this place.”
He ripped his clothing, rubbed dirt and soot on his face, and screamed, “Fire! Fire!”
A shopkeeper approached. “Where boy?”
“Out yonder over the hills! It’s comin’ this way!” He pretended he was out of breath.
A few people jeered from across the street and threw potatoes. The shopkeeper shook his head. “Boy, there’s a moat around the city.”
Embarrassed and defeated, Jonah lowered his head and walked on. “Well,” he shrugged as he looked up to the heavens, “It seemed like a good idea.”
There was a watering trough located on the corner of Cockamamie and Ill Fame. Jonah washed off the soot, sat down, and ate the potatoes. He wished they had thrown some steak and tomatoes, too, but that would have been too generous.
He thought some more of all the ways he could speak to the people of Ninevah without being killed. The threat of fire didn’t work. With the Finger of God, they’d just forget or not care and kill him anyway or chop off his fingers.
What more could he do or say to penetrate their marbleized minds? He thought and thought. “I’ve got it! Bribery. Bribery always works. I’m a genius!”
The sun was setting as everyone gathered in the temple for worship. Jonah walked with sober reverence toward the entrance. He had a wonderful idea and the worst they could do is, well, kill him. “But not likely,” he thought. “Not this time. My plan’s better than Tom, Dick, and Larry’s.”
People were sitting down as Jonah strolled in with the pretense of a holy man. He walked towards the front of the temple with his head bowed in reverence and hands held in a prayer-like fashion. He stopped every few feet and put his hand on a head and said, “Bless you.” The crowd was dumbfounded by his behavior.
Soon, he approached the front with the rest of the teachers. “Who are you?” the teachers inquired.
“Didn’t anyone tell you I was coming?” Jonah responded.
The teachers looked at one another in shock. The leader said, “Well, yes, I mean, no. There was a messenger admitted into the city today, but we never received word…”
“Well, I am here now so you shall have your word. Any objections?” He turned and faced the crowd before they could respond.
“Ladies and Gentlemen. God, in His Infinite Limitlessness, has granted me permission to speak among you today. His All-Wise and Powerful Potency has granted a most delectable position for those here in Ninevah.”
“Due to your daily rituals and regular attendance and general tithe, God has declared you as his most treasured people. In return, He offers you riches beyond your wildest dreams. It’s located in a place called Heaven.”
The people looked at one another with much confusion. “It’s a place of fine jewels and treasures such as the eye has never beheld. If you would dare to look at it in bodily form, you would perish at the sight.”
He paused and a fellow in the back bellowed, “How were you able to see it? It didn’t kill you!” The fellow looked around and a few nodded in agreement.
“My good sir,” Jonah responded, “I closed my eyes just before the trunk was opened and though I didn’t look upon it, I felt it with my hands.” He faced his palms toward the crowd.
“Oh,” several people nodded in agreement, “that makes sense.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, let me assure you, the streets are lined with the finest gold for I was able to look upon them and also the twelve gates made of pearls.”
A fellow in the front responded, “We only got eleven gates.”
“Yes, I know,” Jonah cleared his throat and continued reverently. “Ivory and costly goods of all your heart desires are waiting upon your arrival to this netherworld. Most of you could never afford what God offers and it will all be yours forever and ever, free of charge.”
The teachers clapped with wonder at Jonah’s words and offered him a glass of water. Jonah gulped it down quickly.
“Now, my friends, God wants more than anything to give you this Heaven BUT…” The people were deadly quiet. “You must please Him first, …a little more than you have already been doing. He said that some of you, and we won’t point any fingers, have turned your hearts from Him and haven’t done good in doing good.”
The people looked at one another with guilty glances. “Your perception of good is really badness, candy-coated with false goodness. You must turn from your badness and accept God’s goodness as your own, or you will remain bad forever.”
Jonah’s voice echoed throughout the temple. “No gold and no jewels. No twelve gates and no castles of your own.”
The people began to moan and cry. A woman bellowed, “We didn’t know we were going to get all that!”
Jonah backed away while the leader of the temple ordered the temple workers to bring in the Pot of Ashes. Each one dipped themselves, rubbing ash and dust all over their faces and behind their ears. “These people will believe anything for a pile of gold,” he thought.
He raised his hands and quieted the crowd. “Now, my friends, God said it is important that you believe. Belief is the most important part, or you will make God mad. Believe, my children, and you shall receive. Believe not and you shall receive not…one…blessed thing now, or in the hereafter.”
The crowd moaned louder. “What riches here,” Jonah motioned around the room, “could possibly compare to that which I speak of?” He raised his arms toward the heavens, “And what riches await, that I have NOT spoken of?!”
The crowd wailed and crushed one another to reach the Pot of Ashes. Jonah reached into his cloak for a handkerchief and wiped his brow. He looked up to the heavens with folded hands and silently prayed, “Thanks be to God my task is done. There’s no better time than now to run.” He quickly added, “And may they not break my legs before I’ve begun. Amen.”
Within minutes, Jonah’s words reached the king of Ninevah and he rent his clothes and declared a proclamation that everyone in the city must wear sackcloth and dip themselves in the Pot of Ashes at the temple every day, for a day or two.
Jonah waited until after the sheriff retired and stealthily slipped away into the night. Once outside the city, he was relieved his legs were still intact. “Think I could have told them about the whale?” He pondered to himself. “Na, no one would believe that one.”
By and by, Jonah sat down and waited for God to destroy the city. “In due time,” he thought and fell asleep.
The next morning, he looked towards the Bridge of Doom and was surprised and upset by the flurry of activity around the city. “They were supposed to be destroyed. What is going on? God’s not actually going to spare them, is He?”
He brooded for a few hours over the possibility. He didn’t want God to spare them. How many prophets had been slain and thrown into the Moat of Death! “Burn Back Alley Brutus, I say!”
He looked up and noticed a vine had grown up over his head during the night. A big God with supernatural powers can do the impossible like making vines grow many feet over a few hours. God did all this because He didn’t want Jonah to have to walk a few feet to a shade tree.
Jonah, of course, was tired and hungry and tired of being hungry. “If He’d just hurry up, I could get something to eat in the city. I’m sure everything won’t be burned up. Besides, burnt chicken never hurt anyone.” He looked up, “Come on God! I’m starving here.”
Again, he fell asleep. A few hours later, Jonah woke up in pain. “Ow!” His face hurt from the noonday rays that burned his skin. He looked up and noticed the vine had withered with a big fat worm at its base and he gulped it down with one bite. A burp and a sigh later, he looked towards the city. Nothing had happened since he left the day before.
“I’m so hungry. I’ll never get any burnt chicken. Oh, why did I ever agree to come to this wretched place? These people don’t deserve such kindness. A servant of God gets a worm for lunch and the wicked city of Ninevah gets duck and chicken and steak, and I know they have potatoes. It would be better for me to die than to live!”
Finally, God spoke to Jonah through the base of the vine. “JONAH!”
Jonah trembled, “Yes?”
“Why are you angry? Did I not provide you with shade so you wouldn’t have to walk the few extra feet? How ungrateful! Must I remind you of the worm that dieth not? Consider yourself lucky not to have eaten that one!” Jonah put his head down.
“You’re worried about food and a vine you never tended but there are 120,000 people in Ninevah, with cattle I might add, who know nothing about vines. They don’t know I’m able to grow them up overnight, but you do.”
“The people of Ninevah can’t even tell they’re right hand from their left, even as they walk around in sackcloth looking stupid. But there are 120,000 of them, Jonah, and only one of you. Why wouldn’t I be concerned about that great city?”
“But God, if they don’t know their right hand from their left—,” his voice trailed off. He didn’t bother finishing his sentence for the vine quit breathing and God’s voice was gone.
Jonah sighed and slowly raised to his feet. A gust of wind blew as he turned towards the sea. “It’s time to go fishing, I suppose, this time on the banks of course.”
He walked a few miles and met a fellow with his camel. “Where are you headed?” the stranger inquired.
“Back to the Great Sea, past Megiddo,” Jonah responded.
“Came from Ninevah, myself, and headed for Damascus. Would you like some company?”
“Wouldn’t mind if I do.” Jonah hesitated, “Wouldn’t happen to have any chicken you could spare, would you? A fellow can get a mite hungry in between towns.”
“Sure do,” he reached into his satchel and handed Jonah a big piece of tasty chicken.
Jonah ate and ate while they walked. He was so happy to finally get some food. He looked down at the Ninevite’s shoes and laughed to himself when he noticed the fellow’s sandals were on the wrong feet.
He patted the stranger on the back and asked, “Ever hear the story of Jonah and the Whale?”
Fundamental Christianity teaches that one’s belief and relationship with Jesus are most important and then right actions follow due to some change in the heart or being-state. It is as fictional as believing God can grow vines many feet overnight.
Souls may receive a blissful state during conversions or baptisms, but the being-state remains the same unless followed by devoted actions that spur growth within the soul. The East refers to this as karma yoga.
The four religions were brought forth from one God who is the Creator and Sustainer. They were meant to inspire so that if one doesn’t appeal, another might be sought after. It was intended so that creation should strive daily to be more like the Creator while each religion is a different Reflection of God.
Whichever religion one chooses to follow does not make one’s beliefs nobler than another’s. Nobility is not based on belief, but right actions based on principles. These are what define a person’s sadhana, not whether they pray to Jesus or Krishna, for both are equal yet different Aspects of the Creator.
Jesus’s message of love was purposely left vague so that the world might look deeper into the mysteries of universal love and devotion while striving to find meaning and freedom.
It’s not enough to say, “I believe this or that,” but must be recreated in daily actions. This is what transforms the soul for the purpose of religion is not to bind but set free.
Freedom to choose the best thoughts and actions require effort and devotion and each person’s sadhana or spiritual walk is important to God. Fundamental Christianity reduces God’s real message of love into a whimsical state of self-satisfaction while the soul remains dark and unchanged.
This truth wouldn’t be a point of contention if the spiritual aspirant could see his or her own essence. In seeing the soul, all would readily agree that our everyday actions bear the fruit of growth, not God’s deliverance.
It’s a difficult message to bring to the world but needed if meaningful sadhana is to ever take place within the soul. So whether others approve of the message or not, be kind and don’t shoot the messenger.