The reluctant prophet- Monday, 27th week in ordinary time – Jonah 1:1-17; 2: 1,10
If you have never met a reluctant prophet then meet Jonah. Jonah is told to go to Nineveh (northeast of Israel), on a long trip over land. Just to put this in perspective, Nineveh and Israel were no dancing partners for the hatred between the two nations was as old as the hills. When God asks Jonah to take a message and go north east he immediately sets off in a westerly direction for Joppa and buys a ticket for the slow boat to Tarshish (perhaps Tartessus, in Spain)
Why would Jonah be so defiant, why disobey God? Perhaps it’s because you and I read the text of God’s message to Jonah but only Jonah understood the sub text. Jonah’s people have long known the tender heart of God; a heart they have also taken advantage of several times in the past. They knew that each time God threatened to destroy them they just had to sit in sack cloth and ashes and repent and God had a change of heart.
Jonah knew that if he took a message of repentance from this loving God, to his hated enemies, they would repent and be saved and Jonah would rather have them destroyed. Jonah could not bear the possibility of God’s mercy extended to a wicked and hateful people. His nation and people, on the other hand were more ‘deserving’ of God’s repeated mercy for after all they were His ‘chosen people’.
So Jonah flees from God’s will. But flight from the divine call was impossible; the ship for Tarshish was caught in a ferocious storm. Jonah, who was too frightened to go to Nineveh and preach, slept peacefully through a fearful storm while the old salts and seasoned sailors were on the verge of nervous breakdown.
The persistence of the storm convinces the sailors that someone on board the ship has offended one of the gods. This kind of thinking was prevalent in ancient times in keeping with the polytheism of the sailors. Jonah’s behaviour raised all the red flags and the captain and his companions were curious why Jonah snoozed it out while they, on the other hand, were ‘storming heaven’, literally.
Jonah, on being identified as the probable cause of the storm, invites the crew to toss him overboard, again, betraying no fear! He would rather die than see his enemies even taste the possibility of being forgiven and saved by his God and that too with a message delivered from his mouth.
However the sailors fear losing their own life as much as they fear Jonah’s God and reluctantly agree and toss Jonah into the sea. Lo and behold, the storm abates. A great fish passing by now swallows Jonah in whose belly Jonah spends three gloomy days and nights. I guess it’s the overpowering stench of fish that got Jonah more than his desire to take God’s message to Nineveh; and so he repents and prays. God as usual falls for the fake tears, hook line and sinker and the reluctant prophet is spewed out of the mouth of. Now Jonah sets off for Nineveh to deliver the message, repent or be destroyed.
Will we see Jonah do ‘U’ turn again? For that you need to wait a day.
Fr Warner D’Souza
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