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Monday, June 9, 2014

Jonah, The Bill Collector

The bill collector had a Manitoba area code and his name was Jonah. My co-worker handed me the note and shrugged his shoulders in apology. I gave him the no problem nod and wave. I took the note home with me, this wasn't something to be dealt with at work.

I have been reading the Bible in a random manner. I thought this was a reason to read the Book of Jonah. It is one of the shorter books and that didn't hurt. From what I could recall the story of Jonah was about how the Creator had saved Jonah's life after he had been swallowed by a whale or giant fish. Jonah's faith in the Creator and his various good deeds and positive outlook was rewarded.

It turns out that the story I remembered is most likely based on the illustrated version for kids that kept the messages simple. I never did any serious reading of the Bible as an adult until I read Robert Crumb's Book of Genesis about five years ago. It is an exceptional telling of this text and the illustrations brought everything to vibrant and steamy life.

In reading the Book of Jonah, our hero runs away when the Creator has charged him with the duty of preaching to the people in the city of Nineveh. Jonah doesn't want to do this and he jumps on a ship and heads out to the sea. A storm is waged upon the ship of such ferocity that everyone aboard knows that they are being cursed by a higher power and they all pray to their various gods to no avail.

They draw lots at this time trying to decipher who has brought this cursed storm about their vessel. It is Jonah who pulls the lot and finally at this time he admits that he is fleeing the command of his God. Understandably the people on the ship don't think this is very cool and Jonah is cast overboard. Jonah is swallowed by the whale and the seas become calm.

Inside the whale, Jonah prays for forgiveness and says that he will fulfill his calling. The whale spits Jonah up on dry land and he goes about preaching the word to the people of Nineveh. He tells them that the city will be overthrown in the next 40 days. He convinces the people of the city even to their king to fast and wear sackcloth and sit in ashes. The Creator sees that many of the people of the city are repenting and Nineveh is spared. "But it displeased Jonah exceedingly and he was very angry."

Jonah was preaching the end of days for the people of Nineveh and he was angry that the Creator did not bring it about. Jonah then goes and sits outside the city and stares at it with anger and pretty much pouts for the rest of his life. Jonah could not offer to others the forgiveness given to him by the Creator.

This is not the story that I knew. I wondered what else I had misunderstood about the Bible. That weekend a Jehovah's Witness came by the house and found me outside working in the garden. He provided the proper pronunciation of Nineveh and suggested I read the book of St. Matthew, which is the story of Christ. I said I would.

I soon came across a discrepancy that I find almost revolutionary. In the Bible, when Jesus says the Lord's prayer he says, "Give us this day our daily bread and forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors."

I had always known the prayer as "Forgive us our trespasses as those who trespass against us." If someone trespasses against you that doesn't mean they owe you a debt. In the difference, the lesson is less if not lost. Jesus was anti-capitalism. He didn't just tip over the money changers tables once, he did it twice.

Not sure what all that means, but I'm pretty sure Jonah the Bill Collector is going to be disappointed.


Epilogue

I take the call the next time it comes into the office. Jonas, his real name, apologizes for calling at work and asks if I am the Mr. Morrisseau that lived on Cathedral in Winnipeg. I say no. He then adds a so to his first sorry and I hang up.

It wasn't for me.

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