Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered.
We expect to see God in the big moments of our lives. Having created the universe, it is natural to expect everything God does to be on a large scale. Parting seas and burning bushes are surely where we must seek the divine.
Jonah has no trouble seeing God in storms or a monstrous fish. He struggles however when God chooses to work on a smaller canvas. Plants and worms do not seem the natural medium for such a powerful creator. God might however be giving Jonah his most important bit of encouragement yet.
There is much debate about what the plant that God causes to grow over Jonah’s head means. There are numerous possibilities. Here is one: Isaiah hints at the coming messiah in one of his prophecies: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from the roots a Branch will bear fruit…” Perhaps God is trying to tell Jonah something profound about the fulfilment of Israel’s promise. This should bring him some comfort.
Jonah naturally fails to see the plant as anything other than something that has been brought into existence for his own satisfaction.
Jonah’s impoverished imagination should serve as a warning to us today. A literal reading of the Book of Jonah would lead to you concluding it is a simple story about a fish.
It is impossible to extract neat little lessons or morals from Jonah’s tale. God is not administering simple rules to live by, like a nurse handing out pills to a ward of semi-conscious patients. To read these texts is to step into God’s imagination. God expects us to bring all the creativity and generosity of spirit we can muster.
How do you think we might rediscover the sacred in everyday things?