[The Lord said,] “And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”
Jonah 4:11 (NIV)
I played Jonah in my eighth grade school play. I never fancied myself the acting type; that role in my family fell squarely on my brother’s shoulders. But he was not around the middle school anymore, so that left a big vacancy in the small drama department at Penn Christian Academy (with only 45 students in the middle school… well that was not too surprising). So when audition sign ups posted, I puffed up my chest and signed up. Who cares I couldn’t sing, dance, or act? There was no more shadow to stand in!
The play was “Go, Go Jonah,” a musical interpretation of the minor prophet’s trip into the belly of a big fish and then out again. Musical theater aficionados may recognize that title as being strikingly similar to the song “Go, Go Joseph” from another biblical production “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” Well that’s because this play was a not-so-subtle rip off of that much more successful musical. Sheesh.
Anyway after my audition, I was just as shocked as everyone else my name next to the title role. How could I, a musical theater shmuck, be given such a role? Maybe the surly drama teacher saw something in me that no one else did…
But at the read thru, I realized that I had been fooled. As I excitedly flipped through my script, I noticed that the character of Jonah, despite being the title character, had absolutely zero lines. He was presented as a mute with a burly beard that muffled all of his speech. The website for the musical states that “The Jonah is a non-speaking part, so any kid can be the ‘star.’” A noble goal, except that I distinctly remember the character description in the script reading: “Jonah is a perfect role for an eager youngster without traditional acting and singing ability.” Ouch.
I did the part, though I no longer felt motivated. My parents came and sat and cheered, like good parents do. But I don’t know, my taste for this classic Bible story grew sour after that experience. Yes, I have been holding a 13-year-old grudge against thus story.
I remember the story of Jonah as being fairly straightforward. God calls Jonah to prophesy to the people of Nineveh, but he flees on a ship to avoid the responsibility. Then, God sends a storm as punishment, and the crew throws him overboard where a giant fish snatches him up. After three days of prayer, the fish vomits him up, and he goes to Nineveh to finish the job. That’s it. Right?
As we have seen before, the children’s versions of Bible stories are often edited for graphic and adult content, and Jonah is no different. Jonah successfully ministers to the people of Nineveh, and they turn from his ways. Jonah proves himself to be a worthy prophet, right?
Afterwards, he laments to God about the lack of punishment for the people, saying that He promised to do it, and he ought to follow through. He goes as far as to say:
“Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (4:3)
A deep depression falls over him, and the book ends with a sunburnt, abandoned Jonah in the wilderness, contemplating God.
My grudge is over. Here is a character worth studying. Someone who listens to God, fulfills a promise, and then wonders about the outcome. Sure, that outcome involved the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Ninevites, but still, I find myself empathizing with the guy.
God gave him the lead role and then took away all of his lines.