“For Jonah was a servant, but I am the Master; and he came forth from the great fish, but I rose from death. He proclaimed destruction, but I am come preaching the good tidings of the kingdom. The Ninevites indeed believed without a sign, but I have exhibited many signs. They heard nothing more than those words, but I have made it impossible to deny the truth. The Ninevites came to be ministered to, but I, the very Master and Lord of all, have come not threatening, not demanding an account, but bringing pardon. They were barbarians, but these - the faithful - have conversed with unnumbered prophets. And of Jonah nothing had been prophesied in advance, but of me everything was foretold, and all the facts have agreed with their words. And Jonah indeed, when he was to go forth, instead ran away that he might not be ridiculed. But I, knowing that I am both to be crucified and mocked, have come nonetheless. While Jonah did not endure so much as to be reproached for those who were saved, I underwent even death, and that the most shameful death, and after this I sent others again. And Jonah was a strange sort of person and an alien to the Ninevites, and unknown; but I a kinsman after the flesh and of the same forefathers.” - St. John Chrysostom
To the Fathers of the Church, Jonah is a “type,” a prophetic image that points forward to and is fulfilled by Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God. Saint Augustine declares, “as Jonah went from the wooden ship into the belly of the whale, so Christ went from the tree of the cross into the tomb, or into the abyss of death. As Jonah was sacrificed for those endangered by the storm, so Christ was offered for those who are drowning in the storm of this world”
“Let us show ourselves people of Nineveh, not of Sodom”, wrote St. Gregory of Nazianzus, commenting on the story of the prophet Jonah. “Let us amend our wickedness, lest we be consumed with it. Let us listen to the preaching of Jonah, lest we be overwhelmed by fire and brimstone.”
Can you find yourself in Jonah’s story?
How many of us walk around in fear, understanding that God has called us to proclaim Him to the poor and bind up the broken hearted, yet refusing to be obedient? We wonder what God will need to do to convince us to proclaim the message he has laid on our hearts. Will it take a giant fish swallowing us? Even then, will we turn back and neglect the message we have been given? Because, well, we know better, don’t we? We are not called to what is easy, but to what is good; instead of obedience, we cling to our worthless idols and turn away from God’s love for us. In our selfishness, we refuse to allow God to love the people that he desires to love through us.
I see myself in God’s relationship with Jonah. God speaks, I pretend to be ignorant. God responds, I go in the opposite direction. It seems to take a lot to get through, but God is faithful. How many times haven’t I told God what he was supposed to be seeing? After all, I had surveyed the facts, laid out my plans to respond to the needs of His world, and told God exactly what His next move was meant to be, all the while avoiding the truth as I refused to go where he would have me. But God is in control. God knows all things. Still, this does not give me a free pass at half-hearted obedience that asks him to bless my all-too-convenient plans.
Who is your Nineveh? What is your fish? What storm are you fighting, and what message is the Lord trying to deliver? Perhaps we should be more like the people of Nineveh and learn to listen the first time.