Saucier: Something funny going on


Satire uses humor, irony, exaggeration or ridicule to expose human folly.

We don’t tend to think of the Bible as satire, but when it comes to the story of Jonah, you can check every box.

Jonah was a simple, probably a good man, living in Israel. The one thing that we know about him is that he detested the Assyrians. So, when the Lord told him to go east to the Assyrian capital to save the people, Jonah hops a ship and heads west.

With Jonah smugly asleep in the hold, Yahweh — one never keen on people turning their backs — unleashes a storm.

Discovering that Jonah is the reason for the Lord’s foul mood, the sailors toss him overboard. The storm abates and the survivors give thanks to Jonah’s God.

Sinking quickly with his heart of stone, Jonah is saved when a big fish swallows him. From the belly of the whale, Jonah offers a prayer full of quotes from the Psalms and promises he will not keep.

The text says the Lord commanded the fish to spew Jonah upon the shore, but it was probably nausea from Jonah’s dyspeptic hypocrisy.

At any rate, Jonah sets off for Nineveh without even trying to wash off that fish smell. He didn’t want those Ninevites even getting close to him.

As a prophet, Jonah was supposed to be the voice of God, but his preaching was far less than enthusiastic. He walked through the streets saying only, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed” — for him more of a wish than a warning.

Still, the Ninevites respond. From king to cow, all put on sackcloth and repent. Jonah watches from a hut outside the city, hoping that it would be too little, too late.

The Lord provided a leafy plant for shade, but the plant died, which irked the prophet no end.

God asked Jonah if he didn’t see the irony in his concern for the plant when he didn’t think the Lord shouldn’t be concerned about the lives of 120,000 Ninevites — “not to mention the cattle.” Jonah did not.

Jonah couldn’t see that everyone else in the story — the sailors, the Ninevites, even their sentient beasts — had converted, but he had not.

He was still an intolerant, vindictive nationalist who tried to limit the mercy of God to the chosen.

Fortunately, the satiric message of Jonah was very effective and we seldom see that today.