This reflection is for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B, 1/21/2018.
I once heard of a young girl, 4th grade I believe, who sat in front of her teacher with the rest of her class on the floor, criss -cross apple sauce. The teacher was beginning a unit on whales, a topic dear to the little girl’s heart. No sooner did the teacher mention whales did the little girl’s hand shoot up to say, “Jonah was eaten by a whale!” The teacher promptly responded that that was impossible, that this was a science class not a Sunday school class. The young girl, undeterred raised her hand again and protested, “Jonah WAS eaten by a whale! He was thrown off a boat, eaten by a whale, and then spat up on the shores of the great city of Nineveh!” The teacher bent down low to make her point clear. She said, “Listen, young lady, Jonah was NOT eaten by a whale! Although whales are very big, their throats are very small and there is no way a grown man could be swallowed by a whale, live there for three days, and be spit back up healthy and whole!” The little girl, now with tears in her eyes, looked up with a shaky voice and said, “Well, when I get to heaven I’m going to ask him.” To which the teacher snidely remarked, “Well, maybe he’s not in heaven, maybe he’s in hell.” The little girls said, “Okay, then you can ask him.”
I really do love that joke, because of both the young girl’s faith in Scripture, and her wit. However, if we begin to read the story to discover the truth’s about whales, then we’ve entirely missed the Biblical author’s point, namely, we are Jonah.
Jonah is called by God, refuses and believes he can find happiness elsewhere. Running away from God only brings difficulty, struggle, hardship, and pain–both for himself and for everyone around him! However, even in Jonah’s rebellion, the Lord continues to pursue him, bless him, and show mercy toward him (the whale). It is only in offering himself to God that Jonah finds purpose, fulfillment, and peace in his life. Yes, finally, “Jonah made ready and went to Nineveh, according to the LORD’S bidding.”
Each of us is Jonah and each of us has a Nineveh. God beckons us to do His will, but too often the task seems overwhelming and we are afraid–locked in a downward spiral of sadness and a less-than meaningful, joyful, God-led life. There is no room in this Christian life for “doing our own thing.” We too often equate our will with ease and happiness, and God’s will with struggle, sacrifice, and sadness. The opposite is actually what is true. Our will ends with ease but not happiness, and God’s will is indeed a struggle, will indeed require sacrifice, but the end is NOT sadness, but instead joy, meaning, purpose, fulfillment, and peace.
The people heard Jonah’s message, their hearts were turned, and they received blessings, mercy, and grace because Jonah was faithful to God. Your own Nineveh needs you. Where is God calling you to go? What is God calling you to do? Who remains yet in darkness because of your fear of pursuing the light? Who does God want you to bless? It might not be in a far away land, but instead in your own family, in your workplace, or in your community.
The Gospel today, gives us OUR message from the Lord Jesus himself. He said, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mk 1:14-20) The Kingdom of God is indeed at hand and the message is clear. REPENT and BELIEVE. Our world is doing it’s own thing and is far from God and God’s will. The Kingdom is at hand but too many are from from it. God’s desire is that we change our ways, get right with Him, and advance His Kingdom!
This blog post might in fact be your whale. And Nineveh needs you. Go, do not be afraid.