Jonah and the Cactus: Evanescence

The book of Jonah, which we read on Yom Kippur, ends on an absurd note. Jonah storms out of the city to sulk. He had been sent to call the people to repent, and they did. God had compassion on them and, seeing their will to do better, decided not to destroy them.

Jonah was exasperated. He just KNEW that God was gracious and compassionate and that the people of Nineveh would be forgiven. He probably felt embarrassed that the message of destruction he had proclaimed did not come to pass.

Thinking his efforts had been in vain, Jonah wishes that he was dead. God forms a castor oil plan to shade the sulking prophet, and Jonah is was very happy about the plant.

To add insult to injury, God then causes the plant to disappear overnight. The sun beats down on his head. God asks, “Are you really upset about the plant?” Jonah replies, “I’m so upset I wish I was dead.”

“You’re so upset about this plant,” God reminds Jonah, “that you neither created nor destroyed. Imagine how I feel,” God says, “about a whole city of people (not to mention their animals?”

The lesson is one of repentance and compassion- important values, especially at this High Holiday season.

Yet I always wondered about that plant? It just added to the whole absurdity of the story- a plant that comes and goes in one day.

And then- this flower appeared on a cactus outside my patio this morning. This beautiful flower lasts for only one day- just like Jonah’s plant.

Life is like that- full of moments of evanescent joy.

I thought of Jonah, I thought of the flower, and I reminded myself to appreciate every moment of beauty, large and small- they may be fleeting.

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