Jonah – The Reluctant Prophet
The Book of Jonah is one of my favorites and the one I recommend most to anyone starting to read the Bible. It’s the story of a reluctant prophet who was called to preach repentance to the people of Niniveh. However for this to happen he first had to learn a few very hard lessons. Jonah was an out and out patriot who loved his own country, and hated the dreaded Assyrians, who had on several occasions conquered his land and deported its inhabitants. They were also notorious for their cruelty towards their captives. To hear of God going to destroy Niniveh, the capitol of Assyria, would have been music to his ears. But now God was calling him to go there and preach repentance and forgiveness. This was asking too much, so he went in the opposite direction and found a ship going to Tarsish, in the very opposite direction.
Wed 7th June
We are told that he paid his fare and got on board. We all pay a high price for going in the wrong direction, and so do others. A great storm arose and the ship was in danger of sinking. After throwing cargo overboard the sailors realize they literally had ‘a Jonah on board’ (hence the expression) and wake him up. After listening to his story of being an Israelite who is running from the Lord, they reluctantly throw him overboard and the storm abates. Sometimes tough love demands that we have to make similar hard choices. It breaks a parent’s heart to have to say to a son who is abusing the household with alcohol or drugs that while he is always welcome in the home the addiction is not and he needs to make a choice.
Thurs 8th June
As Jonah sinks into the murky waters a whale sees his dinner floating past and swallows him. For three days and three nights he somehow survives in the belly of the whale where he must have had air but can you imagine the stench. I can’t imagine him getting much sleep. While all this sounds a bit ‘fishy’, strange to say this story has been known to happen during the days of whaling where fishermen lost overboard have been found alive after a whale was killed. Then the whale vomits him up on the shoreline and only then is he ready to set out for Nineveh where the people were more than willing to receive his message. You would think that God would have his big problem with this crowd who were notorious for their cruelty, but in fact His difficulty with Jonah was even greater.
Fri 9th June
There are different ways we can apply this story to our lived experience. Once I shared it and there was a woman present who hadn’t spoken to a former friend for many years. Whenever she saw her coming she would take any other direction in order to avoid her. That day she walked out from Church and you can guess who was coming towards her? At that moment the Jonah story she had just heard became real. She could run for Tarsish and create more suffering for herself, or she could do what she knew in her heart the Lord was asking her to do. This time she was ready and went over to sort things out. They both embraced with relief and became good friends again. A big part, perhaps the first part of healing, has to be reconciliation.
Sat 10th June
Nineveh can also represent any part of our history where we had a hard time and don’t want to revisit. Something that was hurtful, painful or shameful can get locked away and we don’t want to go there. Anyone who had been a victim of any form of abuse, physical emotional or particularly of a sexual nature knows only too well how difficult this journey to Nineveh can be. Before being ready they may have spent years of suffering in the belly of the whale. Sometimes its only the trail of destruction we have left behind that awakens us to the realization that what we thought we had left in the past has been with us all along.
Sun 11th June
Feast of Corpus Christi
Here is a little story that captures something of the essence of Eucharist. It’s not just a once upon a time story, it is actually true, but it still begins ‘once upon a time………it was very dangerous to be a Christian in Communist China and the Christian Church was being persecuted. Anyone coming to Church could be arrested and thrown into prison. One day a little girl was walking to Mass when a group of soldiers stopped and demanded to know where she was going. She didn’t want to tell a lie, but if she told the truth she would be putting a lot of people into danger. So she said a quick prayer to the Holy Spirit asking for wisdom to guide her and this was what she said, ‘I am going to my Father’s house, my eldest brother has died, his will is going to be read, and I am to receive my inheritance’. Sometimes from the mouths of children comes, inspired by the Spirit, comes forth perfect wisdom!
Mon 12th June
Jonah – Our Denial
Jonah’s running from Nineveh and towards Tarsish can represent our running from ourselves and taking recourse in denial. Above is a symbol of denial, it’s not the most attractive, a face and torso combined with arms folded, where we don’t want to see and don’t want to know. This is the river where we love to swim and it’s not just in Egypt! The problem with not owning our own story is that eventually it owns us as it comes back to haunt us. The path to healing is never found by moving away from pain and into denial, but always towards it. All our addictions are attempts to avoid pain but invariably they plunge us into the belly of the whale. No matter how fearful Nineveh may seem, it is the only place where we find peace, healing and reconciliation. Or as one Eastern writer put it so well – ‘It is the cave that you most fear to enter that contains the treasure that your heart seeks’.