“The different ways of story – This basic typology can be summarized like this: Myth establishes world. Apologue defends world. Action investigates world. Satire attacks world. Parable subverts world.” [The Dark Interval: Toward A Theology of Story, John Dominic Crossan pg. 42]
The world of the Old Testament is formed in the mythic stories of the Tanakh. Genesis describes creation as a good thing – the origins of sin – the calling of Abraham and his descendants as a chosen people. Exodus continues the saga of the children of Israel as they leave Egypt bound for the Promised Land. These are the myths of the Bible. They tell those who claim them who they are.
One of the dangers of myths for those who live them is the distortion of the wear and tear of life. In the case of the chosen they moved from chosenness (to be the instruments of blessing for all people) to specialness and privilege.
Jonah serves as a parable, a tale of subversion, critiquing the sense of privilege that had accrued like barnacles on the myth of Israel. God is concerned for all people even; it turns out, the folks of Nineveh. In addition God cares about the welfare of the cattle, which seems a bit odd to our ear, but much in line with the Creator of the Cosmos who found creation good very very good.
It also speaks to the growing greening of theology in the twenty-first century.