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The worm and the vine

A whale figures large in the story of Jonah. But there is another animal in the Book that appears in the final chapter. A worm, sent also by God, to chew on a vine that was giving Jonah some relief from the tropical sun. Jonah had just concluded his sermon on repentance, and was now sitting on a hill overlooking the great city of Nineveh, to watch what he thought would be a certain shower of fire and brimstone.

But the fiery rain did not come, and the worm made quick work of the shady vine, and Jonah feeling the heat, got himself into a mood. In fact, into such an emotional state, that he submitted a request for permanent redundancy, with a capital P. The scene is both pathetic and unnerving. A city is spiritually lost and in imminent danger of judgement. And on a hill looking over the city is a prophet complaining about a worm and wishing to die.

The story is salutatory. To think that God looks upon whole cities with great spiritual concern, while his prophets are distracted with little comfort-reducing worms, such as software updates that take forever to download, parking spaces that are never there when you need them, robots who answer the phone, queues that never seem to move….

As a later poet put it with prophetic bluntness: “Some men die by shrapnel. Some go down in flames. But most men die, inch by inch, playing little games.”

DM 27th July 2016

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