Not being versed in the sacred texts of other world religions, I can only wonder: Do other scriptures present their own constituents as badly as the Old Testament does its chosen people? Even before the Israelite nation per se arrives on the scene, the cast of protagonists in the Bible desperately wants a course in ethics.
Exploring the Word
Comparisons between Jesus and Jonah go back a long way. One might say that Jesus started it. One day the Pharisees came to him insisting on proof of his authority. Jesus was so angered by this demand—weren’t his teachings and miracles proof enough?—that he declared the only sign this evil generation would get is the sign of Jonah.
There’s a lot to be said for inherited religion—the kind many of us received from our parents if we were baptized as infants. It shows, first of all, that someone cared about us enough to represent us in the reception of the greatest gift of all: our membership in the life of Christ.
Have you ever seen an inviting path and started down it, even though you didn’t know where it would lead? Questions start to pop up in your mind. The way could be longer than you’re prepared for. You may not be wearing the right shoes, or have enough water with you. You don’t know when you may return—or if this path ever comes back this way at all!
Most of us like to keep things simple. In life we draw up a plan and then step-by-step try to put it into action. Get an education, get a job, start a family, build up savings, then retire. It sounds so easy and straightforward, doesn’t it?
If you were going to send a Christmas card to God this year, where would you send it? We know the address of Santa Claus, the queen of England, the pope in Rome, and even a friend or two we haven’t seen since kindergarten. But the whereabouts of God are a little hazier.
A story from the noncanonical Protevangelion of James tells how young John’s life was also threatened during Herod’s slaughter of the innocents. In his jealousy for his kingship Herod was most anxious to eliminate the sons of priests. Elizabeth snatched up her child and headed for the hills, but her elderly body could not make the climb.
Some things take forever to get here. Whether it’s the arrival of a friend, a birthday, or the holiday season we’re anticipating, the day can’t come fast enough. Even if it’s bad news we’re waiting on—something that will determine the future of our job or a relationship or even our health—the waiting period can tie us up in knots.
Some people love surprises. Others do everything in their power to organize their lives against the unexpected. If your idea of a great party is having guests leap out from behind the furniture when you arrive home to a dark house, then maybe you’ll love the end of the world, too. Because the eschaton is designed to be the surprise party to end all surprise parties.
For 70 years the National Bible Association has designated the week of Thanksgiving from Sunday to Sunday as “National Bible Week.” A movement started among secular business leaders in New York City during World War II, their signature event is this simple allotment of a week of encouraging scripture reading. It seems so benign and easy: Read your Bible.