Reflecting and Doing
This simple trick is an eye-catching illustration that we can never be so messed-up that God can’t fix us. Here it is presented as an all-age homily.
You will need
- two copies of a picture of Jonah.
- glue stick
- thick marker pen
- felt-tipped pens
The pictures can be printed images or you can draw a stickman, but make sure they are identical. Sign one picture ‘Jonah’ with the thick marker, and be sure you can reproduce the signature exactly later on.
To prepare, lightly glue the top-right corner of the signed picture to the back of the unsigned picture, aligning the corners. Fold the signed picture in half vertically from left to right, and then again. Then fold this tall strip in half from bottom to top, and then again.
You should now have a small rectangle of folded paper with all the free corners in the top right. Make sure you cannot see this from the front (unsigned picture) side.
Who has heard the story of The Hare and the Tortoise? (hands up) Now tell me something – is that story true? (hopefully yes and no answers)
You’re right – the story is true, and it’s not true – both.
The story is not true because hares and tortoises can’t talk and there probably wasn’t an actual race, like in the story. However, that’s not the point. The point of the story is to teach us something that is true. Who can tell me what that is? (discuss point of story)
A story that teaches us a truth, but did not actually happen is called a fable or a parable. Jesus used them a lot. The stories often have people doing silly things, and I expect they were really funny when Jesus told them. Can you tell me any of Jesus’ parables? (answers)
Today’s reading is about Jonah. Some people say that this story is another parable. Other people say that it actually happened. I don’t think it’s very likely, because it sounds more like a funny story to me – God said ‘go this way’ and Jonah ran the opposite way, the baddies in Nineveh who became goodies, Jonah sitting in a fish’s tummy and writing poetry then getting sicked up on the beach!
But it doesn’t really matter whether it actually happened or not, because that’s not the point. The point is it’s a brilliant funny story, and a story with a very important truth. Let’s find out what that truth is. For that, I’m going to need some helpers. (invite children up)
I’ve got a picture here. (show the picture, making sure you always hold it by the top-right corner as you see it, hiding the folded paper)
Who do you think it is? (Jonah) That’s right, it’s Jonah. I’ll write his name on so that we all know it is him. [sign the picture in the same place, with the same pen and signature as before]
Now, our reading today is the very end of the story of Jonah. Who can tell me the first part of the story? (answers)
The first thing that happened was God told Jonah to go and talk to the people of Nineveh. Did he do that? (no)
No, God told Jonah to go east to Nineveh … (have child draw arrow one way over picture, use a table or book to rest on if you need to, but keep hold of the top-right corner)
… but Jonah got in a boat sailing west (have child draw arrow other way)
And what happened when Jonah was in the boat? (answers)
Yes, there was a huge storm. Let’s draw some scribbles for the storm. (children draw scribbles over the picture) The sailors knew that Jonah had messed up big time!
But then it got worse! What happened next? (answers)
Yes, then they threw Jonah overboard and he was swallowed by a huge fish. I bet he was all crumpled up inside that fish. Let’s crumple the paper to show that. (let children crumple the paper, but keep hold of the top-right corner and the folded paper behind it)
This really is a big mess now, isn’t it?
And what happened next? (answers)
Yes, the fish yakked him out onto the beach – YUK! That has got to be the most disgusting thing in the whole Bible! Let’s add some fish slime to the picture (children add more scribble)
What a dreadful mess! Jonah had messed up so many times that I don’t suppose God wanted to use him anymore, did he? (answers)
He did? Yes, you’re right. God gave Jonah a second chance and sent him to Nineveh again. The people of Nineveh listened and turned to God. So that’s the end of the story, yes? (no)
So what happened in our reading today? (answers)
How strange! Jonah is cross with God because God was kind and merciful. In fact, Jonah was more than cross. He was really torn up about it! (rip the picture in half from top to bottom as you say this, and place left torn half in front of right torn half, holding all layers in the top-right corner)
Jonah was angry with God … (rip both layers again from top to bottom, and place left half in front of right half)
… he thought the bad people of Nineveh didn’t deserve a second chance … (tear strips in half from side to side and place bottom half in front of top half, holding everything by the top-right corner – you can have children help you do this)
… why should those bad people, those people who had messed up really badly … (tear strips again from side to side and place bottom half in front of top half)
… why should they be given so much mercy? They’re as worthless as bits of crumpled, scribbled-on, torn-up paper (fold all torn pieces into same shape as folded paper, making sure that none show over the top or right edges)
But God can turn everything around! (spin around, and as you do, flip the paper round in your hand, so that the torn pieces are towards you)
God explained to Jonah that if he, God, wanted to be merciful, (unfold picture from top to bottom) then he could do that.
If God wanted to give the people of Nineveh a second chance, (unfold from top to bottom again), then that was God’s business, not Jonah’s.
If God had been patient with Jonah, which he had, (unfold from left to right) then why complain when God was patient with someone else?
God specialises in straightening out messed up people, like the people of Nineveh, (unfold again, revealing perfect picture of Jonah, complete with signature), and Jonah, and you and me.
And that’s the point.
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Is there anyone I think does not deserve God’s mercy?
Jonah 3:10-4:11Common English Bible (CEB)
God saw what they were doing—that they had ceased their evil behaviour. So God stopped planning to destroy them, and he didn’t do it.
But Jonah thought this was utterly wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Come on, Lord! Wasn’t this precisely my point when I was back in my own land? This is why I fled to Tarshish earlier! I know that you are a merciful and compassionate God, very patient, full of faithful love, and willing not to destroy. At this point, Lord, you may as well take my life from me, because it would be better for me to die than to live.”
The Lord responded, “Is your anger a good thing?” But Jonah went out from the city and sat down east of the city. There he made himself a hut and sat under it, in the shade, to see what would happen to the city.
Then the Lord God provided a shrub, and it grew up over Jonah, providing shade for his head and saving him from his misery. Jonah was very happy about the shrub. But God provided a worm the next day at dawn, and it attacked the shrub so that it died. Then as the sun rose God provided a dry east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he became faint. He begged that he might die, saying, “It’s better for me to die than to live.”
God said to Jonah, “Is your anger about the shrub a good thing?”
Jonah said, “Yes, my anger is good—even to the point of death!”
But the Lord said, “You ‘pitied’ the shrub, for which you didn’t work and which you didn’t raise; it grew in a night and perished in a night. Yet for my part, can’t I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than one hundred twenty thousand people who can’t tell their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”
Common English Bible (CEB)
Copyright © 2011 by Common English Bible