3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lesson from Jonah
Today I want to concentrate purely on the first reading. It is taken from the book of Jonah. Jonah is an interesting character in the Bible. He is one of the twelve minor prophets in the Bible. And in fact he is the only minor prophet who Jesus refers to in his preaching. Today I want to talk to you about prophet Jonah and the relevance of his prophecy.
‘Jonah’ means dove. Dove is symbol of peace and of course the Holy Spirit. But his name does not match his personality. If we see the book of Jonah which is only four chapter taking maximum of ten minutes to read, you will know Jonah is not a dove but ‘God used him as a dove.’ Jonah was a prophet in Israel. And he was asked by God to go and preach repentance in Nineveh. But instead of Going to Nineveh, he takes a ship and runs away in the opposite direction, away from God. Because Nineveh is not an Israelite city. It is the capital city of Assyrians. They are the worst enemies of Israel. And to go and preach repentance to an enemy and save him and his country is not what he fancied. So he runs away form God. Poor soul does not know that we cannot escape and run away from God. He with the crew is caught up in the storm and lots betray him to be the cause of the storm. Result, he is thrown into the sea. And by the command of God a great fish swallows him up and after three days vomits him on the shore that he is so bad a diet to digest and cherish. God has his way of doing things and accomplishing his will. May be this is what they mean when they say ‘God writes in crooked lines.’
Anyway, he is asked again to go to Nineveh and he knows that he cannot escape. And so he goes and preaches. Preaches what? Is it Repentance? No. He preaches gloom and destruction. See chapter three verse four: “only forty days more and Nineveh is going to be destroyed”. It is the people who believe and they repent. Man and beast alike. After preaching doom what does this man do. He goes and pitches a tent outside the city and watches the city to see how it is going to be destroyed. In his heart and mind not an inch for repentance of these aliens. He wants destruction. Enemies of God’s people are enemies of God. So they need to be destroyed. He is waiting for wrath and revenge.
But the people branded ‘sinners’, repent. And God relents.(This is what Jesus taught us) What was the reaction of this so called prophet. Anger, frustration, a sense shame and a feeling of being let down. He shows it to God. And God wanted to teach him a lesson. He causes a castor-oil plant to grow over the tent of Jonah and this delights the ill-humoured Jonah. But at the dawn next day, God arranged that a worm should attack and the plant withered. Next day Jonah is again angry over the sudden demise of plant. And this gives God a good opportunity to teach him and every one a great lesson. Look at his words to Jonah “You are only upset about a castor-oil plant which cost you no labour, which you did not make grow, which sprouted in a night and has perished in a night. And am I not to feel sorry for Nineveh, the great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who are innocent, to say nothing about animals.” I created everyone and everything. Do you think that I will be happy to destroy anyone. No.
What a great lesson for those who kill and perpetrate violence in the name of God. Religion is all about love, forgiveness and peaceful co-existence. Anything other than that comes from evil one in angel’s garb. When will we learn this. Some took centuries to learn this and some need miles before they learn this. May God teach them soon as he taught Jonah. Amen
Fr. Showreelu Simham