Wednesday the story of Jonah makes its way into our weekly Wednesday mass on campus. I’m doing a reflection so I’ll be meditating on this for the next few days.
What does the story of this well…buffoon, Jonah, have to say to us?
My first thought is that we can’t really hide from God.
We all run away from the things in our life that don’t seem easy to us, no? And yet, God always finds us and then and only then, do we have the courage to do what God asks of us.
Sometimes life gets so bad that we too, seem to be living in the belly of a stinky fish. Can you think of anything that could be worse than that?
Jesus can. In Wednesday’s gospel he states that there is “something greater than Jonah (and Solomon!) here.” Last Sunday’s gospel has Jesus getting driven out by the Holy Spirit into the desert, where he overcomes the temptations there. From there his public ministry takes its genesis and he literally makes people without hope suddenly have hope once again.
He does all of this astounding work, only to head to the cross and die.
Jonah is just as sad a story. He convinces the Ninevites, Israel’s traditional enemies, to repent with sackcloth and ashes and when they do God shows them mercy–they heed his warning. One would think that Jonah would be happy that they listened to him, but the story goes on to say that Jonah gets angry because God made him go through so much more when he disobeyed him.
Vindication and revenge often creep their way into our lives, don’t they? Don’t we like revenge? Aren’t we glad when bad things happen to bad people? But what the story of Jonah teaches us is that God loves all people. Even those who make it hard to love them. God wills all people to be saved. Even the jerks.
It also paves the way for the message of Jesus. We are all so loved by God that he never gives up on us. When we disobey him, he allows us to toss on our own waters of indifference and get swallowed up by fear and doubt. It is here that we get to live in the belly of our big fish. It is here that we live in the desert. It is here that we are in out Lenten time, of sackcloth and ashes getting in touch with our own weaknesses and failings.
Like Jesus’ trip into the desert, Jonah learns about God’s love for him in the belly of the fish and how hard it is to love God and to obey his commands. We don’t often think that God could forgive us, do we? That we are so evil that God could never forgive the likes of me.
But like the Ninevites, we need to rejoice–because God does relent his punishment. God’s love is there for all of us to accept. We just have to don our own sackcloth and ashes and accept that God can do so…not just for our own trespasses, but also for those who trespass against us.