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Five Minute Speeches - Anne Herbert

Hi.  I'd like to share with you the story of Jonah. Jonah is the guy who lives in the Bible, about halfway between Elijah and Luke. A lot of you probably think Jonah is the story of a man and his whale. That's not actually true. Jonah is the story about the joy of hatred. Jonah is the story about that exhilarating feeling you get when you discover someone who is really morally more reprehensible than you are. Jonah discovered that joy, and Jonah's basic thing was hating Ninevites.  Ninevites lived far away from him, and he'd never met any of them, but he had a lot of data about them.

Now, hating Ninevites was not like hating Jews, Catholics, Black people, etc.  Hating Ninevites was like hating American Nazis, builders of nuclear reactors, and tuna fishermen.  It was a rational, well-researched hatred based on the actual behavior of the hatees. Jonah had a lot of data on Ninevites, and he was building a career on them. He had just had a story about the relationship of Ninevites, the Mobil Oil Corporation, and saccharine on the cover of Mother Jones. He was hitting the junior college circuit with a speech about Ninevites, and he was hoping to make the Ivy League soon.

So he was not surprised when one day God came to him to talk to him about the Ninevites, He had never spoken to God before, and he wasn't really a God groupie, but he figured God knew who the expert was, right? So God came to Jonah, and said, "Jonah, I'm going to destroy all the Ninevites." And Jonah   -said, "Wow, you must have read my article." And God said, "Before I destroy them I want to warn them.  It seems only fair.  Since you know so much about them, I want you to go to Nineveh and tell them I'm going to destroy them, so they'll have a chance to change their ways and save themselves." And Jonah said, "No way in hell.  I don't want to go there, they're creepy people, and besides that, what if they change?" So Jonah took off. He took the Greyhound bus to the most distant point available, only it wasn't a Greyhound bus at that point in time, it was a boat. He got on the boat, and thought he would skip town, and all would be cool. He did not know he was dealing with a Whole Earth God.

God followed him in the boat and started a very large sea storm. The captain of the boat was extremely upset about the sea storm. He was an experienced captain who knew a theological sea storm when he saw it. So he said, "Someone on this boat is not on speaking terms with God.  Let's draw lots and see who." Jonah said, "Ah, we don't need to do that, I'm the one, I'll jump overboard because it seems like the only way that I'm going to win."  Now it turned out that God knew, as well as any civil rights legislator knows, that the only way to overcome hatred is with brute force.  And God doesn't give up easy. So when Jonah jumped over the side of the boat, God had a whale there to catch him. Jonah landed in the whale, stayed in the whale with the rotting fish and the whale digestive juices for three days. Jonah was a stubborn man of principle it took 72 hours of an unusual smell for him to change his mind, but finally he said, "Oh heck, God, I'll go to Nineveh." So the whale barfed him up on shore near Nineveh and he headed for the world capital of badness.

Now, when he got to Nineveh, he was pleased to see that everything that he'd ever thought about Nineveh was true.  I mean they were right there on the streets using sweat shop labor to run a nuclear reactor that powered an ITT plant that made neutron bombs, whale trawlers, and saccharin. He was naturally appalled. So he got into his street-beggar mode, which he had once used to support his Ninevite research, and he started saying things in a way that not very many people would hear them.  He shuffled down the street, leaned against the walls and muttered, "Repent. Repent.  In 40 days you will be destroyed if you don't repent." You had to be walking right by him to hear him but the very first person who happened to walk by him happened to be bored with his job as a nuclear reactor janitor and he said, "Wow, you're right, this is really awful, let's all repent."

And that guy started yelling Jonah's message and it turned out that a lot of people were bored with their jobs as neutron bombadiers and saccharin cane cutters and they went to the president of the country and said, "We've been gross and awful, and we're going to repent and you have to, too." They put on sackcloth and ashes, they turned their nuclear reactor into a solar generator and they all planted organic gardens and Jonah was pissed.   He was just furious and he said, "OK, God, are you gonna be conned by these hypocrites, do you think that just because they're behaving different they're better?" And God said, " 'Fraid so.  Behavior counts. You lose."

So Jonah stomped to a hill outside of town and sat under a tree praying for the Ninevites to show their true nature and for God to fry them alive.  And all that happened was that God destroyed the tree Jonah Was sitting under so he got a sunburn. Jonah said, "God, how come you destroyed.this tree? This tree never did nothing."  He did a ten minute rap about the tree and how trees are important and you can't just destroy them for no reason. And God said, "How come, Jonah, how come, wherefore why is it, that you care so much about that tree, when you have no pity at all for Nineveh, a city that has a whole lot of folks in it, and some children and animals and you wanted me to kill them all?  How come you didn't care about them?" And that's the end of the book in the Bible.  You're left there with the question., You never know what Jonah said, And you find out the question is for you. What are you going to do? Can you live without hatred?