The readings in today’s liturgy center on the familiar story
of Jonah and the big fish (whale?). What a great short story that is!
In the beginning, Jonah is given a task by God to travel to the land of Nineveh
and to preach repentance to the people there. And this is indeed an
awesome task; it might be compared to a call to any one of us to go to the
toughest part of a big city and preach and to bring the people there to repentance
and reconciliation. How on earth is that going to be done?
When Jonah heard the call of God he ran the other way. He boarded a
ship going in the opposite direction. In the course of that journey
Jonah got himself thrown overboard and picked up by a huge fish that redirected
his journey and threw him up on the shores of Nineveh. Once there,
Jonah got on task and began to preach. To his surprise the wicked folk
of Nineveh listened to him almost immediately and, from the king to the lowliest
inhabitant of the big city, converted to the Lord.
Then Jonah, not content to let things happen as they did, began to complain
to God that he should have destroyed Nineveh instead of being merciful to
the people. Jonah, like many of the people then and now, developed
a harsh nationalism that showed great intolerance towards those that did
not share their faith in God. They wanted God to smite those who did
not see things as they saw them.
The story of Jonah is both instructive and humorous. Its focus is on
God and God’s mercy and compassion in light of the narrowness of the reluctant
prophet, Jonah. The people of Jonah’s time might have been narrow and
unforgiving of others and wanting God’s punishment to rain down on those
who did not see it their way.
But God’s ways are so different from human ways! Instead of punishing
the people of Nineveh, God blessed them with repentance and forgiveness.
No thanks to Jonah, God’s ways were accomplished. There is a universal
message in this wonderful short story: that God’s ways are for all people
– and not just for the elite or the very special or the chosen ones.
The story is a kind of a preview of coming attractions – and the Gospel,
the message of Christ’s mercy and forgiveness is the featured presentation.
God can’t be hemmed in by our narrow ways of thinking about God’s ways of
dealing with us human critters. Jonah and others want to limit God
and that is impossible.
Lord, show me the ways that I limit your mercy and compassion
towards those who need you in their lives. Keep my focus on You and
your goodness and not on my confining ways of approaching others and You.
Help me not to run from your call as Jonah did, but to embrace it with humility
and deep gratitude.