Daily Reflection
October 8th, 2007

Robert P. Heaney

Creighton University Professor Chair
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Jonah is one of the great Bible stories. The danger with them all is that we may focus on the narrative details and miss the message the story is intended to convey. In this case, the plot line, stripped of all its fantastic and fascinating color, is: Jonah is called; he tries to duck the call; he finally accedes; then he sulks when things don’t go as he expected.

Taken out of his Middle-Eastern locale, Jonah is a stand-in for all of us. Recognize anyone?

God asked Jonah to challenge the Ninevites to repent – that is to change their priorities and to act accordingly. “Repent” didn’t mean to express remorse, but to recognize that they had been focusing on the wrong things, and literally to change the direction of their lives. He was told to tell them that they would face disaster if they didn’t. “Repent” was Jesus’ message to His fellow Jews nearly 2,100 years ago; that’s exactly what He told His disciples to say as He sent them out into the hinterlands of Galilee; and that’s exactly the message He asks us, his disciples in the 21st century, to announce as well.

Jonah didn’t expect the Ninevites to welcome his message. He thought they would likely kill him. After all, who wants to hear that he has his priorities all wrong? People want positive, uplifting messages. And besides: “Who gave you the right to criticize my choices?” It is a challenge. No wonder Jonah balked. So would we. So do we.

Note that God didn’t ask Jonah to lead a pious, religiously observant life – to say his prayers and keep all the rules faithfully. He was asked to go out of himself, to save others, to save Nineveh – the enemy!

Some of our preaching has to be by example. What are our priorities? Are we seeking first the rule of God and His justice (as Jesus told us to do)? Or do we put those priorities in second or third or even last place? It’s sobering to realize that it’s not just Jonah who was called; each of us is called as well. While each of our calls will be different, we can know for certain that we will be asked to go out of our comfort zone, as was Jonah, to risk criticism and contempt. We’ll be asked to abandon most or all of our security systems. No wonder we want to run away.

There is a hymn from the Iona community, The Summons, that we sometimes sing at Mass, as we gather as the People of God. If we pay attention to its words, we will note God asking us “. . . will you go where you don’t know? . . . will you let My love be shown? . . . will you let My name be known? . . . will you risk the hostile stare?”

That’s what the book of Jonah is all about. That’s why Jonah – an amusing satire when taken by itself – is in the canon of the Bible.

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