Whenever we hear the Book of Jonah, today’s first reading, I like to speak
about it because we don’t hear it that often. I think it comes up once every
This morning, we get just a little excerpt. So, I encourage you to read the
whole book on your own. That sounds long but it’s only 4 pages long!
You can read it in a few minutes. Take ten minutes and read it.
The Book of Jonah, which is a legend - not meant to be taken literally but
still the Word of God - is the story of a man’s surrender to God over a
period of time.
Jonah figures in a lot of art as well. In our churches and stained glass
windows, you see all these art works of Jonah in the belly of the whale.
Its loved because it summarizes some of the essential dynamics of
Christian spiritual life - and begins with God speaking to Jonah, saying
“Set out for Nineveh and announce a message I will tell you. Tell the
people to repent.”
And that’s the first point right there.
In the Bible,your life- your real life - Life with a capital 'L' - begins when God
calls you. When Jesus called Simon, Andrew, James and John to follow
him, their real lives were just about to begin.
That’s why we must be attentive to hear God’s word.
Abraham, Isaac, Moses, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Mary, Elizabeth, Peter,
Paul - all these great figures - are 'called' by God.
They're summoned for a specific purpose.
“Get up” - and go to a land I'll show you.
“Get up” - and announce this message to my people.
Our lives are about what God wants of us. That’s a great lesson.
So Jonah gets his call - 'Go to Nineveh. Tell them to repent.'
Now Nineveh is a real place, and a very large city. Think of New York.
And, its a difficult vocation - to convince everyone in New York to repent.
So, imagine being sent to the ‘Big Apple’ and announcing to everyone that
they have to get their act together. Right!
Well, God’s call is always difficult. That’s the second lesson.
Every one of us is summoned by God to do something. So, it’s not to early
to ask, do you hear a call?
I mean…if you’re a lawyer - then your task might be to ask people to live
their lives for the sake of justice.
If you’re in business your life is not about money or profit. You can use
your business skills to help people.
If you’re a teacher, it’s not to have summers off…No,you’re called to open
up young minds.
God summons all of us to lives of goodness and justice.
That’s the call to Nineveh. To live God’s purposes.
What's Jonah’s reaction when he hears God call? He leaves in the exact
opposite direction of what God wants.
God says go to Nineveh - that's East by land –over in what would be
Where does he go? - West by sea. He takes a boat all the way to Tarshish,
the far southwest of Spain.
He went as far away as he could - to the ends of the earth - in the opposite
direction from where God wanted him to go.
So many of us hear the call of God and don’t respond - or go in the
opposite direction. We can live our whole lives running away from God.
Jonah was convinced “If I just get far enough away - I won’t feel the press
And here comes another spiritual lesson, the third.
When we disobey the call of God, we can’t expect our lives to be ‘smooth
We invite chaos into our lives. And we can make others miserable.
Everyone on the ship with Jonah has his life threatened, like that ship that
sank near Italy last week.
We're all interconnected. My decisions affect your life. Your decisions
That’s one of the great spiritual issues of our time - this incredible sense of
individualism. We don’t think about the effect that what we’re doing affects
Certain forms of religion limit our thinking to my relationship to God - as in
it’s all between me and God. True Christianity says our lives are
The men on the ship with Jonah - they now see that he’s the cause of this
great storm at sea which starts. The resistance to God’s call causes a
storm. When we don’t follow God’s call the inner storms begin. We’re
miserable and everyone around us is miserable. So, they throw him
overboard & immediately the storm subsides.
I was the Vocations Director of our Diocese for ten years. That means I
worked with our seminarians and scores of other men who were
discerning a call to the priesthood. I can tell you from that experience that
if a was hearing God pointing him in the direction of the priesthood and he
didn’t follow through on it, he resisted it, he was miserable. And everyone
around him was miserable too.
The same is true with marriage. If a person is called to marriage and they
don’t act on it, they stall, they’re miserable and the whole family is as well.
Jonah - and this is the most famous part of the story - is swallowed by a
big fish. He spends 3 days and nights in the belly of the fish.
When you finally surrender to God - you need a time of purification.
You see, conversion doesn't come automatically or easily.
Jonah is constrained in the belly of the fish. He’s unable to move. His own
desires are squelched.
The fish is swimming all the way back to where Jonah began. God is
bringing him back to where God wanted him to be.
The time in the belly of the fish is his purification.
Moses, Joseph of the Old Testament, St. Paul all spent years in the desert
or in prison before their mission really began.
The fish swims with Jonah - and spits him out on the seashore - just where
This time Jonah follows God’s call& he goes to Nineveh and becomes the
greatest preacher in the history of preaching.
He preaches repentance - and everyone repents - everyone - from the King
to the common people. Even the cattle repent by wearing sackloth and
ashes, which is all part of the humor of the book.
Great things happen we hear God’s word and follow through on it.
Listen to God’s call. Surrender to it. Don't run. Surrender to it and your
life will become a channel of grace.
Read those 4 pages and listen for the voice of God in your life.