Of all the prophets, Jonah is perhaps the most reluctant, and his struggle with sin is not hidden. In the following meditation, we shall see how the book of Jonah beautifully portrays sin and God’s love for sinners.
- Jonah’s defiance against GodNow the Word of the Lord came to Jonah saying,
“Go at once to Nineveh and cry out against it… But Jonah set out to flee” (John 1:1-3)
To defy means to openly and boldly resist what one is told to do. Jonah’s attitude most likely results from hatred. Rather than trusting God, Jonah disobeys and thinks he can outrun God.
We too, disobey God and His commandments. Our defiance against God often seeps into our other relationships and we find it very difficult to submit to any authority.
St. Ignatius of Loyola writes,
“It is not hard to obey when we love the one whom we obey”.
Our likely disobedience against God stems from our inability to truly love him. This translates to our inability to love our brothers and sisters.
Reflection: Have I been defiant towards God? Do I find it difficult to submit to authority?
- Running from God
Jonah sets out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord… He paid his fare and went on board. (John 1:3)
Tarshish refers to the coastline of modern day Spain. In a bid to avoid doing the will of God and travelling 500 miles to Nineveh, Jonah is ready to flee 1500 miles away from God. He also spends a considerable amount of money to run away.
We learn right from the time of Adam and Eve, how people in sin, choose to hide from God. (c.f. Gen 3:10) Sin is usually expensive but many people are willing to pay to indulge in their pleasures. Much of our trouble comes from our sin. So much suffering and cost could be avoided if we just obeyed God.
Reflection: Do we hide from God for long when we are in a state of sin? Do we frequent the sacrament of confession regularly to help us return back to God?
- Disturbance and troubles
Such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up. The mariners were afraid and they threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea. (John1:4-5)
Jonah’s defiance puts him and others straight into a storm. The mariners, fearing for their life lose wealth and suffer great losses.
Persistent and unrepentant sin brings storms, disturbances and troubles, not only in our life but into the lives of others we know and love. So much pain and loss is experienced from the defiant, selfish behaviour of a few individuals. Abortions, rapes, addictions, terrorism, pride result in so much pain and suffering in the world we live in today.
We fail to realise that we are all members of the body of Christ. If one of us sins and disobeys God, all have to suffer together. (c.f. 1Cor12:26)
Reflection: Are we responsible for causing pain and suffering to members of our community, church, home etc?
- Oblivious to others
Jonah, meanwhile, had gone down into the hold of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. (John 1:5)
Like Jonah, we are oblivious to the harm our sin causes others. We say that what we do is nobody else’s business. We remain spiritually blind to our many faults and failings, resulting in a great deal of stress and anguish to those around us.
Reflection: Have we been blind to our own faults?
- Wake-up Call
The captain came to him and said, “What are you doing sound asleep? Get up, call on your God!” (John 1:6)
The captain, who is not a believer in the God of Israel gives Jonah a dressing down. He literally asks Jonah to pray and get back in touch with God whom he has run away from.
Sickness, struggles, financial difficulties etc serve as reminders to us that we have moved away from God. He continuously desires that we return back to Him and restore the relationship that we have broken. Lent is a wonderful time to reconcile ourselves with God. Yet, as Pope Francis writes,
“It is not God who gets tired of forgiving us, but it is we who get tired of asking for God’s forgiveness.”
Reflection: Have we responded to the numerous wake-up calls to mend our ways and return back to God?
Jonah said to them, ‘Pick me up and throw me into the sea… For I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you (John 1:12)
Jonah despairs and asks to be thrown into the sea. Jonah, like Judas and many other sinners does not truly repent, but is merely ashamed of himself. In other words, he says: Kill me; I do not deserve to live. This is not repentance but despair.
Many people today think that their situation is hopeless and ending their life is a quick solution to all their problems. Yet, there remains only one solution to the despair in the world and that is to turn to Jesus.
Reflection: Do we despair during our struggles and think there is no hope?
- Great Mercy
Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to bring the ship back to land (John 1:13)
The men were not willing to kill him. They tried their best to save his life.
Even the fallen deserve our love and respect. It is too easy for us to wish to destroy those who have harmed us. Just as God reaches out to the sinner, to try and correct in love, we too are called to be merciful and forgiving to our brothers and sisters.
Let us be renewed by God’s mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish. (Pope Francis)
Reflection: How merciful are we to the people we interact with on a daily basis?
They cried out to the Lord, “Please, O Lord, we pray… They then picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea. (John 1:14-15)
The sailors finally picked up Jonah and threw him overboard. But before which, they prayed for his deliverance and asked for mercy from God.
So often, we are quick to reject or condemn those who don’t suit our way of thinking or those who are difficult to work with. We are more than happy to let such people go, but we seldom think of praying for them.
Reflection: Do we pray for those who have moved away from God? For those who have left the Catholic faith?
- Faithful God
But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah… (Jon1:17)
The sailors thought they had taken Jonah’s life by throwing him overboard. The Lord however had different plans.
We draw a parallel from the life of Joseph in the book of Genesis where he says,
“Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.” (Genesis 50:20)
God is always working to bring good out of the dark and difficult situations of our lives.
Therefore, even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and staff- they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)
Reflection: Do we recognise the hand of God in our lives? Do we thank Him for His faithfulness towards us?
- God of the second chance
The Word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time saying… (John 3:1)
God works with sinners, drawing them back to Him. He is the God of second chances. In effect, he says to Jonah: Now where were we?
We who have been forgiven so much have no right to withhold forgiveness from others. We are to be merciful to others because God has been merciful to us.
Reflection: Can we be more accepting of others’ failings and give them second chances?
May this meditation help us on our Lenten journey. Amen!