Littlewell
Christ Centered Church Resource Site

JONAH

Jonah 3
Sun, January 26, 1997
Rev. Ed Searcy
The movie had been written up in all the papers.
Not only had it gone way over budget
but its name kept being changed.
The screenwriter called it
"A Whale of a Tale"
but the producer's thought that it sounded too corny.
They named it: "The Reluctant Prophet"
but by the time it was released the marketers
had changed that to five capital letters surrounded by a fish:
"JONAH".

Initial reviews are mixed ...
with most reviewers puzzled but intrigued.
So, on a hunch, you decide to go
and see what all the fuss is about ...

As the lights go down
and the opening credits roll the camera is in a tight close up
on a pebble strewn beach.
Waves gently lap up on the shore ...
the soundtrack is eery ... mysterious ...
you sense that something strange,
something odd is going on ...
the camera slowly widens its angle of focus
and turns towards the horizon ...
just then we catch sight
of one huge tail fin flapping on the surface as it dives ...
at the same moment
we hear the sound of a man coughing ... gagging ... swearing
The camera cuts back to the shoreline
and we realize that we have been watching
through the eyes of this ragged man.
who is covered in seaweed ...
ghostly white ...
dazed and weak ...
lying groggily on the shoreline.
His eyes close ...
and the screen darkens ...

A new scene comes into view.
We see a man
suitcase in hand
running through crowded streets.
The camera follows him
losing sight of him momentarily
then spotting him again as he turns a corner
and dodges oncoming traffic.
Suddenly the man turns his head
and glances back over his shoulder
as if looking for a pursuer.
We catch a momentary glimpse of his panic stricken face.
It is him
The man we have just seen
washed up on the beach.
Suddenly ...
in a series of quick cuts ...
we see him running down a dock
and then climbing aboard a freighter ...
then finally entering a tiny cabin.

Now everything slows down
the camera slowly pans the room
taking everything in ...
the suitcase lies open on the floor,
no clothes ... no toiletries ...
just a pile of newspaper and magazine articles
with headlines like:
"Nineveh ... Crime & Corruption Capital"
"U.N. Names World's Most Hated City:
Nineveh tops poll for tenth consecutive year".
Pulling back, the camera swings along the cabin wall ...
we see the man tacking up large posters and maps.
Each one bears the name: 'Nineveh'.
Now the camera pans to the bedside table ...
it moves in to a close up on the ticket that lies there ...
made out to one 'Jonah Truthteller' ...
we see a word that has been crossed out: 'Nineveh'.
Below it has been stamped instead: 'Club Med, Spain'.

We follow the camera as it slowly turns away from the bed
and moves over the shoulder of the man
as he sits at a small desk ...
there we see that he is writing in a diary
and as he writes we hear his voice narrating the words:
"Nineveh ... Nineveh ... Nineveh ...
Am I going nuts?
I can't get the word out of my mind.
All I did was go to worship on the sabbath with my family
as I always do.
Nothing out of the ordinary.
Except that the preacher mentioned 'Nineveh' ...
mentioned that God had a word for Nineveh ...
a word of judgment.
Inside I said a silent 'Amen' to that.
And that's when it started.
It is as if the preacher was speaking directly to me.
Ever since I can't get 'Nineveh' off my mind ...
it comes up in every conversation ...
If I didn't know better I would say that God has chosen me ... me ... Jonah son of Truth ...
to speak to Nineveh ... dirty, stinking Nineveh.
I know it can't be true ...
it can't be God
and if it is God,
God can't want me.
But I have to do something to stop this voice.
That's why I left the note for the family,
left the keys at the office
and booked a trip half-way around the world.
Anything to get away ... to find some peace."

Closing his book,
we see that it has grown dark.
Jonah Truthteller
rolls into bed in the candlelight.
The camera focusses on the lone candle
burning steadily
when suddenly we notice the flame bending sideways
a breeze stirring ...
then the candle itself is leaning to the side
as the boat begins to rock...
a storm brewing ...

Again the pace quickens ...
the music throbs like the building storm ...
a series of quick cuts to deck hands strapping down cargo
then of cargo rolling loose and flying over railings ...
we see close ups of toughened sailors,
their faces full of fear
one of them bursts into Jonah's room
and finds him sound asleep, undisturbed
Flipping on the light switch
he sees the posters and pictures on the walls,
spies the case full of clippings ...
and stirs the man awake:
"Wake up man ... wake up ...
we're all going to drown ..
the ship is going down".
Climbing up onto deck
Jonah says aloud:
"Nineveh ... this is all because of Nineveh".
"What are you talking about?"
the sailor yells
But before he can say anymore
the strange man who babbles about Nineveh is gone,
man overboard,
without a life jacket
into the murky deep.

As he begins to sink below the surface
we catch one last glimpse of the freighter ...
suddenly becalmed,
the camera pans across his cabin
coming to a close up on the single candle
burning in the stillness.
Below the surface of the water
we see a strangely calm sight ...
a body sinking slowly ... peacefully ...
to a watery grave ...
no struggle for breath ...
not even an attempt to swim ...
instead,
when Jonah's face turns towards the camera
we see an eery grin
as if he has finally escaped for good
and welcomes sweet death.

But just then we notice Jonah's grin disappear ...
we see his eyes widen
and his arms being to flail ...
turning, the camera catches sight of something large and dark
something whale-like ....
yet bigger than any whale we have ever seen ...
slowly, smoothly
the huge fish glides under the flailing body of Jonah
and in one amazing gulp
swallows him whole.
After a momentary silence
the soundtrack records an audible 'burp'.

We follow the fish as it swims off into the deep ...
and slowly, ever so slowly ...
we begin to hear Jonah's haunting voice singing ...
as the fish swims past wrecks
and over reefs
we hear Jonah's plaintive prayers ...
'Yes, I'll go" ... he sings ...
"I'll go ... I should have know better ...
When God calls, there is no running away".
The camera slows and then stops ...
as we watch the big fish swim away ...
Jonah's voice fading off into the murky distance.

The camera once again opens onto a pebbled beach ...
We recognize this scene
and we hear the crackle of a fire ...
beached Jonah is drying himself
and cooking a fish ...
Behind him we see a sign:
Nineveh - east on Highway 3 ...
Jonah steps to the road side ... and sticks out his thumb ...

Suddenly the screen is filled with light ...
the camera is pointing into a brilliant sun ...
then, as it moves down,
we catch sight of the tops of skyscrapers
we see the skyline of a monstrous city.
At first glance it has a strange beauty about it,
a shining, gleaming testimony to human ingenuity.
But as the camera continues to move down, down, down
we see that is dark and terrible.
We cannot tell if this is a burnt-out inner city ghetto
or the remains of some mindless civil war ...
perhaps it is what is left after a prison riot ...
or after a dictator's security forces have 'cleansed' the area.
Slowly the camera begins to move along the street
through a gathering crowd of onlookers ...
police are holding them back ...
there is yelling, jostling, cheering ...
now the camera turns
and faces a glistening building.
There, above the entrance, we read:
"Nineveh City Hall"

Down on the steps below
we hear Jonah’s familiar voice booming
through the loud speaker:
"Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown ...
look around
look at the mess you are in ...
this place is on its last legs
the God of heaven and earth has had it with you ...
it's too late now ... it's over for you"

As he says it we notice a little smirk creep onto his face
a little look to the heavens
a little wink of the eye
a little hint of deep satisfaction.
and we hear Jonah's inner voice speaking:
"Maybe now you will leave me alone ...
now that I have done your bidding ...
now that you can go ahead and wipe them out
and get it over with.
Look at them ... they've got it coming to them ... big time."

Just then we see the look on Jonah's face begin to change ...
the bemused smug
gives way to a dumbfounded stare.
Jonah's stops his prophetic rant
and gazes at the crowds of distasteful cheats and scoundrels
in front of him.

A series of quick cuts
show us different members of the crowd ...
the mayor and his council ...
a gang of thugs ...
the reporters covering the event ...
all pulling gunny sacks over their heads
and rubbing ash all over their faces ...
not a one is eating so much as a sandwich ...
all of them are on their knees.
It looks like Mecca during Ramadan ...
like a Monastery at Morning Prayer ...
the camera returns to Jonah's lowered jaw
as he walks off, confused.

The camera pans the city from a hill on its outskirts ...
we see a car in the distance ...
slowly, the camera zooms in tighter on the car
we see that it has a speaker mounted on its roof
and, getting closer,
we hear its booming announcement:
"By royal decree all Ninevites and their beasts
are to fast and wear sackcloth and cry to God for mercy".
This Jonah, this foreigner, will yet be proven wrong ...
perhaps we Ninevites can change God's mind."

The car passes a herd of cattle,
all covered in sackcloth ...
then past a woman walking her poodle ...
both baying aloud for divine mercy.
As the camera pulls back
we can hear the din ...
the whole disgusting city in pitiful prayer ...

Then, in the foreground
we spot Jonah ...
tired, dumbfounded Jonah ...
talking to himself again
as he stumbles along a dirt road:
"Why did I bother ...
I knew that something like this would happen.
This is precisely the reason I ran the other way.
I come all this way to tell the bad guys that its over ...
and you go and change your mind.
That's the problem with you ...
the world laughs at us ... belittles us ...
says 'Why bother with God ... why serve God?'
Then, when it is time for you to show them
to really show them ...
you love them instead ...
why you Dirty Forgiver
how dare you!
How dare you make me look like such a fool ...
How dare you make them look like such saints
what with their death bed conversion and all?!"

As the sun climbs into the sky
we see Jonah sitting on the hillside
watching the city
waiting ...
to see if his predictions will come true.
As he watches,
the camera takes our eyes
down to the ground beside him ...
where a small sprout breaks the ground ...
a bean sprout ...
slowly but surely we see the shadows on the ground
tracing the sun's journey ...
and with each advancing hour we see
the plant's mysterious growth
until Jonah is basking in its shade ...
delighting in his wonderfully good fortune.
As the sun sets
Jonah smiles
and lies beneath his lucky charm.

At sun rise next morning
we hear a nibbling sound ...
slowly the camera lens
traces its way down the bean stem to its roots ...
there we see a tiny grub chomping its way through the stalk.
Jonah wakes
and we see that sand is beginning to blow into eyes ...
as he rubs them he sees
that his lucky bean plant is wilting in the heat.

It is all that he can take.
Looking at the city still going about its business
and then at the plant ... his one simple pleasure in life ...
Jonah is at his wits end
Staring straight into the sun he yells:
"Why don't you just let me die?
After all, the things I care about die ...
and the things I think should be destroyed
just go on living.
Is there no justice?"

Now
for the first time ...
we hear a voice answer back.
We hear the voice
that Jonah has been speaking to all this time.
It is an unusual voice ...
not Woody Allen, not Charlton Heston, not Madonna ...
not quite male, not quite female ...
a voice that is mysterious, powerful, strange:
"So you are concerned for a bush, are you ...
a bush that came as a gift, unnanounced and unearned,
lived for a day and then died?
You are concerned about a bush that gave you delight."

Jonah slowly nods his head ...
and continues staring into the sun ...
"Then let me ask you just one thing ..."
a long pause as the camera pans back to the city ...
"Shouldn't I be allowed to be concerned about Nineveh ...
that huge sea of humanity
who thinks it knows so much
but who can't tell its right hand from its left ...
not to mention all of their animals?"

With that the camera follows Jonah Truthteller who,
giving no answer,
turns around to face Nineveh ... and begins to walk down the hill.
Is he walking towards the city ... or back home ...
we are not sure.

As the final credits roll and the house lights come up
some theater patrons are grumbling.
"I heard that it had a weird ending"
says one woman to her friend
"but this beats the cake".

Down a few rows a theology student whispers to a friend:
"You know, sometimes I wonder if being in theology
isn't about answering God's call ...
maybe it is really running away from God's call ...
avoiding God and escaping the suffering of Nineveh.
Maybe VST is as safe as Club Med in Tarshish!"
"Maybe", says his friend,
"but more often than not I get the feeling
that our church is in the belly of the fish about now.
We've tried to run away from our calling for a long time ...
but it is beginning to dawn on us that God
won't let us get away from our responsibility quite so easily".

At the ticket counter
a man is demanding his money back:
"That is the sickest thing I have ever seen ...
suggesting that people will not have to pay for their sins ...
making a laughing stock of God's prophet
by dressing all the animals in sackcloth ...
and then ... then changing God's mind ...
God who knows all and sees all? No.
I am going to phone my pastor first thing in the morning.
This has got to be stopped
before too many more people see this propaganda."
"Your name, sir?" asks the person behind the wicket ...
"Smith", he replies, "Jonah T. Smith".

Up in the control room,
the projectionist is getting things ready for the next screening.
She has seen the same show
five times a day, five days a week for the past month.
Now ... out of nowhere
a tear comes to her eye and falls down her cheek ...
"Could it be", she thinks,
"might God really be prepared to think twice about me ...
about the mess that I'm in ... that we're all in?
Maybe God really is trying to get through to me ...
Maybe there really is still hope for me to turn things around ... hope for us all."

Later that night ...
as she closes the apartment door behind her ...
she hears something ...
"Oh, it's nothing", she thinks ...
but then she hears it again:
"Nineveh" the voice says ...
"Nineveh ... I need you to go to Nineveh".