For the last three Sundays we have been reading the book of Jonah. I know it is not easy stuff. Unlearning something familiar is difficult, but in certain circumstances it is the only honest and liberating thing to do. We know we must challenge our long established cultural, racial, religious, national, gender or orientation based prejudices. Many of these prejudices are deeply rooted in theological and biblical misconceptions. The Book of Jonah is intended to deal with just that; every chapter is crafted to unsettle some serious religious misunderstandings.
Chapter 1 lampooned the larger than life prophetic ego. Common pagan sailors (old salts!) instinctively sought self preservation and life, and even their superstitious religiosity was more honest than the pathological behavior of Jonah, that prophetic necrophiliac .
Chapter 2 satirized religiosity, especially the form of piety which is just a cloak for personal agendas, and which is used to obscure true divine imperatives. The real monster was not the fish, but the revolting disobedience masked behind a flood of pious phrases and scriptural quotations.
Chapter 3 ridiculed the public displays of repentance (requested or ordered.) If you think that repentance or forgiveness can be mandated or commanded by anyone, then make your livestock or pets repent and dress them in sackcloth... Would they recite the rosary? Perhaps parrots?
I know, these are all quite challenging concepts. Especially when our predominant culture (especially church culture) has been teaching us that the Bible (or even God!) speaks only with a serious face, stern tone, admonishing vocabulary and exhortative grammar, in messages of pure morality. The point of the book of Jonah is that neither the Bible nor God do! This is solid theological scholarship, and has been for quite a while.
The last chapter of the book of Jonah is probably the most challenging and controversial, and potentially also the most liberating. Its focus is our human understanding of God. Clearly it must be the most rotted part of our human religiosity, because God again recruits a helper, not an angel, not a seraph, not even a big fish, but a maggot! Believe me, I am not making it up! A worm will help God to heal Jonah's (and our!) ailing faith and teach him (and us!) what it means to speak about a Living God.
Can God change? Is God like a piece of granite - inanimate, monumental, rigid, unchanging and slowly eroding? Or is God vulnerable, changing, evolving, living ...? Unchanging and eroding or evolving and growing?
By the way, the "maggot therapy" is a tested, scientific, and official medical procedure.