"And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land" (Jonah 2:10).
In my Easter sermon (from the Matthew 12 passage where Jesus uses Jonah as a sign), I asked our morning congregation, "Whom do you identify with in the Matthew Jonah-Jesus story?"
The disciples? Good choice. A bit confused. Often failing. But learning and staying faithful to Jesus.
Jesus? Well, that's too easy. And if you picked Jesus, then you don't identify with Jesus. Just saying.
The pharisees? This is the group that opposes Jesus. Scared. Annoyed. And, threatened by Jesus' presence . . . ready to get rid of this nuisance. we should identify with these characters, for we have pharisee hearts.
The crowd? Following Jesus around–sometimes for Jesus, sometimes against him. A mixed bag. Certainly curious. Benefiting from Jesus' miracles. But, also liking Him because he be "speaking truth" to our oppressors, to the man, against the system . . . Many are in this group, but it is still self-seeking, self-preserving (and for good reason, too), hoping for a resistance leader to arrive . . . yet it is the crowd that benefits from Jesus' presence and will be the group to respond to the gospel first . . . after the resurrection . . . this is a fair and a good choice.
Jonah? Running from God, 180˚ from where God is calling me. Yes. This is me. Fess up, people. Plus, why in world would I want to preach to those mean, savage, cruel Ninevites? They be our enemies. If I preach to them there is a good chance You will show mercy on them. (And that's exactly the original story in the OT–and mostly why Jesus uses the Jonah story as a sign to the Pharisees. Do you get that now?) A parallel to the scribes and Pharisees. An excellent choice.
The Ninevites? This is my choice. I was an enemy of God, and while I was yet a sinner, Christ died for me (cf. Romans 5:8). Yes. The group, i.e., the character, in the story that gets mercy . . . that's what I want to be. (That's what I need.) Need to recognize I am (was) an enemy of God, but that he showed me mercy . . .
Okay. You can tell there should be recognition that we are some and all of these in some way (except for identifying as Jesus, of course).
So, whom do you identify with in this sign . . . you looking for a sign . . . you can't handle a sign . . . truth!
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.