KSG Berlin 21.1.2024
Jonah and Cassandra
On Jonah 3, 1 – 5.10
Dear sisters and brothers,
what a tragic figure from Greek mythology is Cassandra!
A woman who constantly talks about the future and proclaims the truth, but no one believes her. To tell the truth and to be heard at the same time – that is a difficult task. With Cassandra, it doesn’t want to work at all.
Cassandra, one of the daughters of the Trojan king Priam, thus possessed the gift of foreseeing and predicting the future, but no one believed her.
One of the explanations of how this came about was a kind of relationship breakdown: the beautiful Apollo fell in love with the king’s daughter Cassandra and gave her the seer’s gift as a present. But because Cassandra didn’t want to give in to Apollo’s desires in the long run, he soured the gift a bit: The seer gift remained, but Apollo added the curse that nobody would believe her.
What a drama: You know everything and use the opportunity to predict people’s future, but you are not believed. It’s not nice to receive such a prophetic gift…
The context of my introduction about Cassandra is the Old Testament reading that we heard today. It is about a story that is at least as well known as that of Cassandra:
Jonah and the city of Nineveh. Well, Jonah is more commonly associated with the story of the fish that swallowed him and Jonah had to stay in its belly for some time until he was allowed out again.
But the fish is not at all the point of our story.
Then the Lord says to Jonah:
“Set out and go to Nineveh, to the great city, and threaten it with all that I will say to you.”
And Jonah does. He walks through the city for three days (because it had been a great city) and cries out, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed!”
And this has an effect. The people are horrified, repent, and God is pleased. It is said that God repented of his own message of doom and took it back.
Good for Nineveh that God was so inconsistent!
Jonah wants to flee because he is afraid of his own message. When he announces unpleasant things to the inhabitants of Nineveh, he does not know what it means for himself. After all, it was not impossible that the inhabitants would react allergically to such prophecies.
There is nothing else left for him: Either he takes over God’s order or he evades this order.
He does it like a civil servant: If he has to do something unpleasant or something he doesn’t like, he doesn’t say “No, I won’t do it,” but he mumbles a “Yes” and simply forwards the case to the superior. Then, in any case, you don’t do anything wrong.
Because God doesn’t go along with that: Whoever bears responsibility must also accept it and cannot evade it by running away.
In our reading, we are almost at the end of the process: In the meantime, Jonah has decided to fulfill his mission. He goes into the city and calls out the commanded threat.
And what happens?
The completely unexpected.
He is not lynched, but they people are horrified, acknowledge their guilt and atone.
And God Almighty, in his wisdom, revises his own decision and leaves the city free.
Cassandra would have been glad if her prophecy had been listened to as in the case of Jonah.
But Jonah was not glad! Because one has listened to his prophecy and has adjusted 100% to the problem. But this makes Jonah untrustworthy: Because nothing happens after 40 days.
Was it because of the conversion of the people or was it because the announcement of Jonah seemed only the shouts of a strange man?
The unheard truth of Cassandra left her the role: her shouts were in the truest sense of the word Cassandra shouts, but the warning which is not heard at first, but which will be fulfilled later.
The Jonah was left only the role of the fool who threatens, but nothing happens.
What the right predictions of Cassandra did not achieve, the word of Jonah brought about, which, however, unfortunately thereby becomes a wrong (!) prediction. This makes him potentially a false prophet in the eyes of the people.
It is not about the fact that one stands as a fool in his external presentation, that one is hurt in his vanity!
It is about the fact that you have to fulfill a mission, where you yourself are not so important, but the mission itself, that is everything decisive.
Because Jonah fulfilled the mission to threaten, because he announced something that did not come to pass, he saved the people of the city of Nineveh, because it was only through his appearance that they came to their senses, turned around and were thus allowed to go on living.
We see, selflessness – even at the cost of one’s good reputation – can be of benefit.
When I look at it like this, I would rather be a misunderstood Jonah who saves than a Cassandra who is not understood, but not only prophesies disaster, but this also becomes a cruel reality.
Thomas Eggensperger OP