#11: The Prophetic Imagination

Jonah 3:1-2

Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time:
‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.’

After the first two chapters have done everything possible to subvert the conventions of a prophetic story, we finally have something recognisable. This being the Book of Jonah, this does not last long, but let’s enjoy it whilst we can.

These verses allude to the tales of more conventional prophets, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Jonah might have finally come good. I suspect our hero does not realise he is about to undertake the most successful prophetic mission is Hebrew Scripture.

As I started to read the Bible, I did not expect to find anything quite as radical as the prophets amongst its pages. Each of these books are infused with an urgent commitment to liberation. They are committed to breaking free from oppressive social structures and lifting up the marginalised. They offer a radically different vision of society. Quite simply, they are intent on overturning the status quo.

It is therefore natural to ask where Jonah sits amongst the twelve prophetic books we have in the Hebrew Scriptures. In so many respects, his story is the joker in the pack. Behaving in wild and unpredictable ways, Jonah’s tale forces us to think afresh about the prophetic imagination. Under that seemingly benign comedic surface, we are challenged to reassess our understanding of God: Does God act in our interests? Is God always merciful?

As unsettling as this is, it is very much in keeping with the prophetic mission. We are pushed out of our comfort zone and forced to let go of our lazy assumptions.

How is the prophetic imagination at work in your life?