Daily Reading: Jonah 2 and Luke 2, Salvation in the Temple
Jonah 2, Luke 2
I suppose at first glance, it might be rather difficult to see a connection between these two chapters. Indeed, I don’t suppose that every daily reading will necessarily have a connection. But like yesterday, I see something in these two chapters that makes them very similar.
In Jonah, you have a man at his wits end. He is literally at the end of his rope, the bottom of the barrel. He had ‘sunk down like lead, into the sea.’ He was engulfed by waters and had seaweed wrapped around his head. He is in great distress and yet he still has enough sense, there inside a great fish, to cry out to the Lord. And the Lord, from whom there is no place to hide (‘even if I made my bed in Sheol, there you would find me’), still has enough compassion left to answer Jonah’s prayer: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me, from deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry.” Well, that may or may not be poetic hyperbole. I don’t know. Whatever it is was, Jonah’s prayer was heard and answered according to Jonah himself.
Jonah recognized that he had serious issues where he was at. He was, in a sense, in a tomb. Encased as it were in death. ‘Deep in the realm of the dead.’ Buried down deep. What does he do? He prays. He twice tells us, “…I will look again toward your holy temple…”; “…and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.” Jonah was looking toward the place of grace, the place of mercy, the place of compassion, and the place of forgiveness. Jonah was no idiot. All he does in this prayer is talk about how God had mercy on him: You listened to my cry, you answered me, you brought my life up from the pit, and you saved me.You…resurrected me! Jonah knew all this as he faced the temple and yet he was willing to turn his back on Ninevah. If God could raise Jonah from the dead, could he not also raise Ninevah?
In Luke, we see the same thing happening. The author of the book is directing our attention to the temple. Here’s Jesus, born in the shadow of Caesar Augustus, in a small place; here’s Jesus, his birth not announced to royalty, but to shepherds; here’s Jesus, his birth not announced in a court, but in a field by heavenly messengers. But Luke is working his way toward the temple also. Jonah looked that direction, and so does Luke. “Why were you searching for me?” Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” Jesus asked his bewildered parents.
It always comes back to the temple in a way. It always comes back to the ‘place’ where God is. In Scripture we are always being pointed back in the direction from whence we came. If we exited Eden to the east (the same direction one would exit the temple) then we must travel back to the temple, in a manner of speaking, and return to God’s presence. Is that why Jesus was so at home in the temple; that is, because that is the place where all of us should desire to be? Shouldn’t we also be able to say, “Don’t you know that I have to be in the house of our Father?” Jesus was taken to the temple on the eighth day, and we are told that his parents went to Jersusalem every year for Passover. The next time we read about Jesus is when he is 12 years old ‘at the meeting house’. The impression Luke seems to give us is that Jesus, like Anna and Simeon, never left the temple. Why not? Why would anyone want to leave God’s presence? He gives us a picture of salvation; salvation is in God’s presence, in God’s temple. (See Revelation 21)
This is what is ironic about Jonah. He knows that ‘those who cling to worthless idols forfeit God’s love’ but he didn’t seem to concerned about telling them the alternative narrative, the one that takes them away from worthless idols and towards the temple where God ‘is’; towards salvation. If it is true that ‘salvation comes from the Lord’ then the right question to ask is: Does everyone know the Lord from whom salvation comes? Have we cleared the path and made straight paths for people to get to the Lord?
Thus we come back to Luke’s Gospel and the strange prophet named Simeon (a man of whom we know nothing else). He nailed it, and I think this is the connection between the two chapters, “For my eyes have seen your salvation [Salvation!], which you have prepared in the sight of all the nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” But we don’t own that salvation. It is a gift for us to share. Jonah didn’t want to share it. Jesus would do nothing but share it. And God, the Lord from whom salvation comes, desires that everyone have a share in it.
Jonah would sooner be dead than point people back to the temple he himself looked towards. Jesus, the light of revelation for the nations, died so that people could look towards the temple. Here is Jesus, the answer to Jonah’s prayer.