Swallowed by a Whale: A Teachable Moment for Jonah, a Reluctant Prophet



A Teachable Moment for Jonah, the Reluctant Prophet




Every day we choose the person we want to become.

Make a choice to live each moment

with purpose, grace, and compassion.

Deepen your practice,

Whatever that might be.

Awaken to the endless possibilities

and to right action. 



  • From the book of poems, You! Jonah! by Thomas John Carlisle

Coming and Going

The word came

and he went

in the other



God said: Cry

tears of compassion

tears of repentance;

cry against


the reek

of unrighteousness;

cry for

the right turn

the contrite spirit.


And Jonah rose

And fled

In tearless



Reprimand to a Naïve Deity

I will not advertise

this crazy scheme

of Yours.


God, what a farce

That men should sin and find escape.


I mean, of course,

Not me

But all our mutual



Dear God, kind God, don’t listen

to their prayers.


  • We all experience times of difficulty and are faced with the responsibility to act from our highest and best selves. We all may have memories of trying to run away from conflict and unpleasantness.


  • Old Testament stories are filled with stories of both successes and failures. I don’t take these stories literally, but bring a Jungian perspective and approach them as I do my dreams……


  • Never taking them literally, but searching for messages hidden in the text. I believe that all dreams come in the service of the dreamer. And I apply this to Biblical stories.


  • When the text speaks of God, I think not of an authority of power and might, but of the indwelling spirit within all humans that offers both love and guidance. So, you Buddhists and Humanists and Atheists, hang in there with me. There will be something here for you too.


  • As children, many of us were told a story of Jonah being swallowed by a big fish and then spewed out after three days. But there is so much more to this story.


  • Jonah sensed that his God called him to travel East and warn a hated enemy nation that they would be destroyed if they didn’t straighten out and stop their violent ways.


  • The Book of Jonah is short, only four chapters. If you’re curious, check it out. Back then the people of the Middle East believed in local gods, who had to be constantly appeased. Fear and superstition ruled.


  • Jonah was NOT interested in following this call. In fact, when God told him “Go East,” he bought a ticket on a ship going West.


  • If we substitute the God of the Hebrews with the voice of our highest selves or better angels, we may remember when we felt called to offer kindness or forgiveness and we have resisted, choosing instead to build walls of resentment.


  • Jonah resists this call, boards a ship, goes below the deck and takes a nap. How many of you can relate? I certainly can. A storm comes up and the sailors freak out. They wonder whose god is angry. They wake Jonah up and insist that he join them in discovering who was responsible for the situation. They cast lots and the lots said Jonah was their man.


  • Jonah says “It’s me. Throw me overboard” This story reminds us of the choices we each may make. At this point Jonah would rather drown than go warn the people of Nineveh.


  • The sailors throw Jonah overboard and down, down, down he went. He felt kelp wrapping around him and just as he was drowning, he changed his mind and called out for help and a big fish appeared and swallowed him whole.


  • I am reminded that whales all around the world are dying because their stomachs are filled with tons of plastic bags, plastic fishing nets, and other debris. But that is a story for another day.


  • From the darkness, Jonah rethought his marching orders and agreed to follow them. Then the fish threw him up on dry land.


  • This reluctant prophet headed for Nineveh. At least he could rant and rail about how God was going to destroy them. He probably took great pleasure in giving them the bad news.


  • Sound familiar? Somehow self-righteous statements feel so good at the time we make them. Jonah was sure the Ninevites wouldn’t respond and he was probably looking forward to their destruction. He set up a camp outside the city to watch their destruction.


  • I’ve been wondering if revenge is the opposite of forgiveness. Jonah’s god was asking for the people to act with compassion and justice. To turn from arrogance and violence to humility.


  • Left to our inner narratives…the stories we tell ourselves…we can be easily led us down a path of reactivity: we start blaming and shaming, and as a result, we are not able to move forward into a space of compassion, understanding, and forgiveness.


  • In other words: we get stuck in our heads, weaving narratives, even after a simple squabble, it becomes more difficult to recover. We need a two foot drop from our heads into our hearts,


  • Forgiveness is an inside job. We must embrace all our own feelings with compassion. We must name and acknowledge our feelings to “tame” them. The practice of labeling our feelings helps create space between our emotions and our reactions so we can choose how we want to respond in the moment.


  • We may be unable to change our circumstances, but we can choose to change ourselves. We can stop playing a blame game when we feel that we have been dealt a harsh blow. We can respond instead of reacting.


  • We can remember our commitment to our principles. We can act with both our heads and hearts in sync with our UU values.
  • Jim Rohn shares “You can’t hire someone else to do your pushups for you.”


  • Jonah was furious when he heard that all the people of Nineveh had responded to his preaching, had repented, and had put on sackcloth and sat in ashes.


  • Jonah knew his god was merciful. He could see what was coming. He told god that he would rather die without forgiveness than to allow mercy to flow through his heart.


  • It was a teachable moment. But Jonah was stuck in his own story. He just wasn’t ready to cooperate. He wasn’t ready to create a new reality and embrace a greater sense of purpose.


  • May we, as members of this congregation, be quick to offer compassion and kindness to each other and may our congregation be a bright light to the stranger, a friend to the oppressed, a voice for equal justice, and a fountain of mercy to all.























  • I want to end with another Carlisle poem.


Coming Around

I prefer
magnificent distances
between me
and God.
Reserve me
a quiet cubicle
where my shipmates’ screams
will be inaudible.
Let them wrestle
with revolutions.
I am resolved
to sleep soundly.


It is exasperating
to be called
so persistently
when the last thing
we want to do
is get up
and go
but God
to keep on
like some
holy ghost.




The generosity of God
displeased Jonah exceedingly
and he slashed with angry prayer
at the graciousness of the Almighty.
“I told you so,” he screamed.
“I knew what you would do,
You dirty Forgiver.
You bless your enemies
and show kindness to those
who despitefully use you.
I would rather die
than live in a world
with a God like you.
And don’t try to forgive me either.”


And Jonah stalked
to his shaded seat
and waited for God
to come around
to his way of thinking.
And God is still waiting

for a host of Jonahs
in their comfortable houses
to come around
to his way of loving.





Closing Words

He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him in!

From the poem ” Outwitted”

Edwin Markham