Summary: A talk given as part 2 of a 4 part series with Churches Together in Billericay. Jonah was finally doing the right thing. Jonah 2 is a Psalm of thanksgiving, contrition and rededication. As individuals and Churches can we join in with that Psalm?
In the winter of 1891 the whale-ship ‘Star of the East was in the vicinity of the Falkland Islands when it came within sight of a whale. Two boats were dispatched with harpoons to snare and kill the beast, but the lashing of its tail capsized one of the launches, spilling the crew into the sea. All were accounted for except for one sailor, James Bartley.
Ultimately the whale was killed and the carcass drawn aboard the vessel to begin the process of salvaging valuable resources. By the next day good progress had been made in removing the layers of blubber from the beast, so a tackle was attached to its stomach to hoist it on deck. Sailors were startled by spasmodic life within the belly of the whale, and upon further inspection the missing sailor was found. Bartley was quite mad for two weeks, but upon recovering his senses he recounted what little he could recall of being dragged under the water.
Struggling for his life he had been drawn into darkness within which he felt a terrible and oppressive heat. He found slimy walls that gave slightly to his touch, but could find no exit. When his situation finally dawned on him Bartley lost his senses completely and lapsed into a state of catatonia. During his time inside the whale the gastric juices affected his exposed skin. His face, neck and hands were bleached a deathly white with a texture like parchment, a condition from which the skin never recovered. Bartley believed that he would probably have lived inside his house of flesh until he starved, as breathing was not a problem.
There are, however, reports that suggest that this whole story is nothing more than an early urban-legend. You can find it on the BBC website with something of an open-verdict. Wikipedia calls it an urban-legend; but there is also a story from the 1930’s of a dog lost overboard but found, alive, two days later, when a captured whale was cut open.
It’s been a while since anyone asked me, “Warner; this Jonah bloke in the Bible; Jonah-Lomu’s great great ancestor; Jonah. Did he really get swallowed by a whale?” It’s been a while (or depending on your accent it’s been a whale!), but maybe you’re asking that question. Did it happen? Personally I believe it did, but consider this: Some people visit Israel today and they are delighted to see that they can visit the Inn, the Hotel, the Travelodge where the Good Samaritan took the beaten-up man for food and shelter. There are big brown tourist signs telling you where to find it. Visitors can take pictures of the Inn and the surrounding hills, imagining what it must have been like when the event first happened; and that’s all lovely right up until the point when someone says, “Hang on a minute. Wasn’t that Good Samaritan a parable that Jesus told? And if that’s the case then this isn’t the place at all!” No, it isn’t the place; because the true location of that parable is in our hearts; and out there (in the world).
On the other hand when the disciples met the risen Lord Jesus on Resurrection Sunday that was an actual event in history seen by many people and written down for us; it was an event that many followers of Jesus would later die for because they refused to deny that they had seen the risen Jesus.
What about Jonah and the whale. Is it an attitude-changing parable like the Good Samaritan, or is it a life-changing event like meeting the risen Messiah?
Should ‘Jonah’ be a test of Biblical orthodoxy?
In other words, are you only a ’real’ Christian if you believe that the Jonah story literally happened? No! In the Anglican Church we’ve got much bigger fish to fry! Much more important is this: what does God want to say to us tonight through Jonah chapter two? I believe God speaks to us through his word, and I’ve got no problem with people who believe the book of Jonah is a parable.
We read in Jonah 1:17 that Jonah has been swallowed by a great fish; probably a whale-shark. Jonah is in the belly of the big fish and if I were the fish and I’d just swallowed Jonah-Lomu’s great, great ancestor I think I would have indigestion; acid indigestion. So Jonah is in the midst of acid indigestion and for 3 days he is housed in a stomach.
He is surrounded by acid indigestion and his home for this 3-day ‘escape from the world’ -his house is the belly of a fish; and in that fish Jonah writes a Psalm. He begins to write some poetry, some music. Surrounded by acid indigestion, spending 3 days in the Big Fish-Belly House Jonah writes some music; and here we see very tenuous evidence that Jonah was indeed the founder of acid house music!