A few weeks ago the daily Mass readings were from the Book of Jonah. At the time, one of my confreres loaned me a copy of a little book by Fr Paul Murray OP, “A Journey with Jonah: The Spirituality of Bewilderment.”
The Book of Jonah is one of the shortest books of the bible, but almost everyone knows about Jonah who gets swallowed by the “giant fish.” Our Lord himself made reference to the story of Jonah.
Jonah is a bit of an anti-hero in most respects. Upon hearing what the Lord asks him to do, he sets out – almost amusingly – in the totally opposite direction. He tries to get as far away as he can from where the Lord wants him to go. How many people, if they’re honest, would not admit that that tends to be our reaction, often, to the Lord’s wishes, whether we’re conscious of it or not.
For Jonah, running away from the Lord results in being swallowed by the giant fish and eventually regurgitated, not before experiencing the profound desolation of being taken to the dark depths of the ocean.
Jonah eventually arrives where he was sent, and the huge and wicked city of Nineveh repents after just one sentence uttered by our reluctant prophet. Everyone, from king to the most lowly person, puts on sackcloth and ashes, and turns to the Lord. Even the animals do the same!
But poor old Jonah, far from being pleased, is so angry and bitter, because this is exactly what he thought would happen, and he couldn’t see why he should have had to come to Nineveh. He cries out to God and says that he’s angry to the point of wishing he was dead! The Lord responds to Jonah and reminds him of His desire that people should turn to Him.
Fr Murray says:
Reading through the Book of Jonah, we soon come to realise that God speaks to us, not only through his word, but also through our own confused emotions. Jonah’s relationship with God, at least to some significant degree, consists in a series of different states of feeling, all of which have been provoked by different circumstances: emotions of guilt, for example, or of fear or of joy.
With references to Cardinal Newman, Thomas Merton, and St John of the Cross, Fr Murray has provided much food for thought as the reader reflects on his or her own relationship with God. How much of our lives is spent avoiding what we know the Lord is calling us to do? Of course, our avoidance springs from all sorts of reasons.
May the Lord give us courage to hear His call, and to find our real fulfilment in carrying out His will.