Jonah and the Whale
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 21, 2018
A little girl was talking to her teacher about whales. The teacher said it was physically impossible for a whale to swallow a human, because even though they were very large mammals their throats were very small. The little girl stated that Jonah was swallowed by a whale.
The teacher reiterated that a whale could not swallow a human; it was impossible.
The little girl said, “When I get to heaven I will ask Jonah.”
The teacher asked, “What if Jonah went to hell?”
The little girl replied, “Then you ask him.”
The great parable of Jonah and the whale. One of the more popular parables in the Old Testament, even though the book of Jonah is only four chapters long. Do you remember the story? God calls the prophet Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh to preach there and to convince the people to repent. Now Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, which is now the modern day country of Iran. The Israelites and the Assyrians were bitter enemies, so Jonah refused to go. Instead he got on a ship going west to Tarshish, rather than east to Nineveh.
It is almost as if God is saying, “Oh no, you can’t run away from me!” So the Lord sent a terrible storm on the sea. The shipmates throw Jonah overboard because they know he is trying to run away from God, and that’s why God sent the storm. As soon as they have thrown Jonah overboard the sea calms down. Next a big fish swallows Jonah and takes him back to the shores of Nineveh, a three day journey.
Jonah realizes he can’t run from God, so he walks through the city announcing the city’s fate: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed.” Much to everyone’s amazement, including Jonah, the city of Nineveh, from the king to the beasts in the field, repents of it evil ways. It is enough to impress God, who declines to carry out the threat of annihilation.
You would think Jonah would have been happy, but he was not. He grew angry because he really wanted God to destroy Nineveh. After all, they were the enemies, they had conquered Israel, they were the pagan Gentiles. God was the God of Israel: the chosen people, not the God of Assyria. The Assyrians were not one of us.
Jonah’s narrow minded response was revenge. Jonah then runs off in a huff because God didn’t do what Jonah wanted. So God sends him a gourd tree for shade, but only for a day. Then God destroyed the tree. Now Jonah is really irate. It is almost as if God is saying to Jonah, who do you think you are? And, who do you think you are up against?
We can learn a lot from our scriptures today. Have you ever tried to run away from God? You can run but you cannot hide. Have you ever not wanted to follow the commandments of the Lord? Have you ever not wanted to reach out to people you don’t like? Or people who don’t like you? Have you ever wanted God to punish the people who have offended you?
Our God is a God of mercy. Just as God forgave the citizens of Nineveh its history of violence on God’s people because of their contrition. Jesus forgave everyone: tax collectors, prostitutes, Peter who denied him, and those who crucified him. Remember his words: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
In conclusion, Jesus’ proclamation of repentance in preparation for good news was constant throughout his mission. Destruction was never the goal, salvation was.
And it still is for God and must be so for us as well. Amen.
Fr. Terry Hazel
Jonah 3:1–5, 10
They proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth.
1 Corinthians 7:29–31
For the world in its present form is passing away.
Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Then they abandoned their nets and followed him