A really excellent post on Pastor McCain's really excellent blog Cyberbrethren last year (2010) got me going, and I expanded my comment there into a post here. This is the 2011 version of my post. I don't know if PTM will re-post his, write a new one, or what, but Cyberbrethren is always worth a visit, so check it out. He generally posts calendar related things the day of, whereas I post them some days before since this is not a daily-posting blog.
Jonah is one of those Eastern observances that we have well added to our calendar. Although our current calendar unfortunately adds Vatican II novus ordo style revisionist nonsense along with preserving the Christian calendar which grew out of the Jewish one, it also adds, commendably, some observances of Old Testament figures the Eastern Christian calendar has that the Western historically hasn't. Jonah is one of them, which is on 22 September. Thing is, in the traditional Julian calendar followed by many EO churches, 22 September falls in 5 October in the Gregorian Calendar we use. Oh well.
Growing up, in that preconciliar RCC time, I was taught that Jonah -- or Jonas as we said then following the Septuagint, or Greek, form of the name -- prefigured Christ with the three day thing and all, the great fish prefigured the tomb of Christ, his coming out of the fish the resurrection of Christ, the water the water of Baptism, etc.
But how much more there is! Where Jonas was the "reluctant prophet", Jesus is not! Jonah wanted judgement, especially on Nineveh, which was not only not part of the Chosen People, it was one of its enemies! Jonas was called; he just didn't like what he was called to! His reluctance was to a message of repentance, and the forgiveness that it brings, to all people. Teshuva, the Hebrew for repentance, is extended to all Man, not just the people chosen to bear the message, and even to its enemies.
Jonas doesn't like that. But the book makes God's insistence on it clear. The pagan sailors' piety and desire to do what's right before God, as best they could understand it by their own incomplete lights, is contrasted with Jonas' reluctance and the problems it brings them. And after the message is delivered to Nineveh, God takes him to task for being more concerned about a gourd given for his help than the fate of the people -- and animals -- of Nineveh! But they do repent, and yes, fast.
Nineveh, btw, was the capital of Assyria, a threat to the Jews which would later conquer them, and a centre of the worship of Ishtar. Regardless, God offers them repentance, and with no insistence that they undertake observance of the Law of Moses. You may have heard of Nineveh's location in the news lately, in case you think this is more musty Past Elder stuff. Its ruins are across the river Tigris from Mosul, Iraq. Heard of that? And what for sure isn't musty is the message that God offers repentance and forgiveness unto all Man, even the wicked and those who oppose God, everyone.
That God offers repentance and forgiveness unto all Man is so important that the Book of Jonah is read in its entirety on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which is the precursor of Christ the Atonement, as the haftorah at mincha. What the hell is that? Or, if you like, what does this mean?
The haftorah is the precursor in the Jewish lectionary of the "Epistle" reading in the Christian letionary. Mincha is the afternoon synagogue service corresponding to the afternoon Temple sacrifice that is the precursor of Vespers.
Our lectionary grew out of the Jewish one. So, just as in the original there is a reading from The Law or Torah and a related reading usually from The Prophets, called the haftorah, which is sometimes actually from the third section of the Hebrew Bible, The Writings, in the Christian lectionary there is a reading from the Gospels and a related reading usually from the Epistles, called the Epistle reading which is sometimes actually from other books of the Bible either NT or OT.
Thousands of years ago, a third reading was added to the Law/Haftorah format, to make readings from the Writings more included, and, a reading cycle over three years was done besides the traditional cycle. They were also centuries ago abandoned and the traditional continued; maybe that will be the precursor to the abandonment of recent similar Christian, Roman Catholic actually with other wannabes following suit, efforts of adding a third (OT) and even fourth (Psalms) reading and distributing them over a three year cycle. The point of a lectionary is the calendar of observances it serves, not to be a Bible study; synagogue and church alike hold those separately.
Thus the Torah (Law) portion is the precursor of the Gospel portion and the Haftorah is the precursor of the "Epistle" portion, in the lectionary as in the order of the books of the Bible as in the unfolding of salvation -- Law and Gospel! And here in Jonas we see that while God's call to repentance is universal, so is the failure to do it, to both those under the Law or even just the Noahide part that applies to all Man, and so is the forgiveness offered by the Gospel!
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