When nightmares become realities- Tuesday, 27th week in ordinary time- Jonah 3:1-10
Today, Jonah’s nightmare turns into a reality. He tried to dismiss several times the possibility of this scenario playing out in in his mind and had hoped that this would not happen. All he had to do was say five simple words in Hebrew, then pack his bags and head home. Who would really take notice of five words he thought? Unfortunately for Jonah, while this was the shortest homily in the history of humankind, its effects were mind boggling by any standard.
Jonah had just spent three the worst days of his life in the belly of a stinking fish. That’s all it took for this reluctant prophet to cave in and relent to God’s will. I guess torture by fish entrails, was God’s latest weapon. Jonah would do as he was told even though his ‘repentance’ was most certainly half hearted. But if that is what it took to get out of this stinking fish, then so be it. It had now become evident that the all merciful God of Israel was bent on making a point. His mercy was to be offered to all, Jew and Babylonian.
There was no love lost between the two nations; the Jews and Babylonians hated each other. Battles like the siege of Lachish had left the Jews beheaded and impaled on spikes; such memories were hard to forget for a conquered people. So one can completely empathise with Jonah’s lack lustre homily consisting of five Hebrew words; eight in English, “Forty days more, and Nineveh will be overthrown!”
Jonah now obeys because he realizes the futility of flight. God had sealed his escape routes first by a storm and then by a large fish. Perhaps Jonah must have still clung on to the hope that Nineveh would reject his message and God would destroy the city. That would make Jonah a hero back home; the opposite would make him a traitor.
And now here he was, in the city of his enemy. Jonah had barely made a beginning of sorts into the city, merely a day’s journey of the three days journey, (a day’s journey being about twenty five miles) into a city known for its enormity of size. Perhaps he found the least conspicuous place to preach, the softest voice to proclaim it in and the most unenthusiastic tone employed, all designed to achieve one cause; make even a single conversion an unimaginable possibility. In reality, his lack lustre performance gets him a standing ovation; conversion is now a national affair and everyone is seeking sack cloth and ashes.
Jonah is the only successful prophet in the whole Bible who has triggered off a mass conversion with five words. His predecessors and those after him often had to lecture long and hard with little effect. This is a clean sweep for Jonah; from the king to the cows, all have turned to Yahweh’s mercy.
Jonah has earned his stripes, he should be ecstatic, but was he? That we shall read about tomorrow.
Fr Warner D’Souza
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