Strange as it may seem, I was moved to write this article while reading a book on Palestinian liberation theology. Please think with me about the ongoing relevance, even to Palestinian Christians, of the Old Testament book of Jonah.
Preaching on Jonah
From way back, I have long been interested in the theological and missiological meaning of Jonah. The sermon I preached in my seminary homiletics class was on Jonah. I can’t remember if the sermon on Jonah was the only one I preached before the class. But I do remember it—and wish I still had the manuscript for that sermon. (Why can’t I find it on my hard drive?)
At that time (1961), June and I were pursuing a career as overseas missionaries, and I was convinced that there was a strong missionary message in Jonah. That conviction has not changed, although it has been refined some.
Thus, it was with great interest that I read about Jonah in a new book on Palestinian liberation theology.
Ateek’s Emphasis on Jonah
Naim Stifan Ateek is a Palestinian Christian and an Arab who is a citizen of the nation of Israel. Ateek (b. 1937) is the retired Canon of St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem. His book A Palestinian Theology of Liberation was published earlier this year.
Since I have written about the plight of the Palestinians previously (see especially here and here), this article is only about the main point that Ateek makes about Jonah in his book.
“The Theology of Jonah” is a brief section (pp. 76~80) in Ateek’s book. He asserts: “Through the story of Jonah, the Old Testament reaches its theological climax.”
Jonah is the apex of OT theology because there we find emphasis on God as the God of the whole world, an inclusive God. Secondly, Jonah teaches us that “God’s people include all people.”
Ateek’s main point is the third thing we need to learn from Jonah: “The story of Jonah emphasizes that there is no one particular land that belongs to God. God is the God of the whole world. . . . God is concerned about all lands.”
|From the NIV Quickview Bible|
Thus, “Authentic understanding of land rejects the exclusionary monopoly of one people that brings about the negation, expulsion, and ethnic cleansing of the people of the land” (such as the Palestinians).
Ateek goes on to stress, “The challenge of authentic faith is to overcome and defeat whatever is exclusionary regarding our theology of God, neighbor, and land, and to embrace whatever is inclusive.”
Bell’s “Take” on Jonah
Pastor Rob Bell made a splash in the theological world with his book Love Wins (2011)—about which I wrote in my blog article titled “Bell on Hell.”
Bell’s latest book is titled, What Is the Bible? How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything (2017). “Fish,” the 13th of his 43 short chapters, is about Jonah.
Bell cautions against Christians placing importance on “defend-the-fish” arguments in interpreting Jonah while missing “the point of the story, the point about allowing God’s redeeming love to flow through us with such power and grace that we are able to love and bless even our worst enemies” (p. 104).
Harking back to my most recent article (here), Jonah teaches the importance of loving those whom we have othered.
At this time when the U.S. Administration—and evangelical Christians who are some of its strongest supporters—tends to other (“illegal”) immigrants, Muslims, the poor, they—and we all—need to pay close attention to the relevance of the theology of Jonah.