Growing up I was fascinated by one story book in particular: The Legend of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. Many nights were spent curled up on the floor of my bedroom, my legs tucked under my nightgown, listening to my mother read chapter after chapter about the helpful lumberjack. My story book set the tale in Minnesota, but I have also heard that Paul Bunyan lived in Maine, or Quebec, or even California. Which one is it? Does it matter? No. It is the story’s exaggeration of detail, not the actual details, that matter. The exaggeration is the vehicle behind which the truth sneaks in.
Sunday, we will read from the prophet Jonah. Many recall this story as the one where a reluctant prophet, summoned by God, departed for his mission and ran the wrong direction, gets swallowed by a great fish and ironically, is thrown back precisely where he was asked to go. Is that the only thing that happens in the book of Jonah? Hardly. The Ninevites, sworn enemies of the Israelites, actually listen to Jonah’s paltry prophecy. They do repent–and not only the men, women, and children wear sackcloth, but the animals, too!–and the city is saved. Jonah, meanwhile, cannot stand God’s exaggerated mercy. By the end of the book, we are left with a question. We do not know what Jonah chooses–life, with a gracious God; or death–that is, Jonah’s personal pride, and the bitterness of the desert.
The parable from the Gospel of Matthew we will read in worship on Sunday morning is also an exaggerated tale. It, too, is meant to be the vehicle behind which the truth sneaks in. And if you get caught up in the details, you will miss the point. Can we stand a God with a very exaggerated sense of mercy? Or will we get caught up in the endless parsing out the details of the kingdom of heaven?
Dear God, you always exaggerate everything! (Thank you.) Amen.