By Charles Johnston:
The book of Jonah is just four chapters long, and the whole book can be read in just a few minutes. But what it lacks in length, it more that makes up for in substance.
There are many lessons to be learned from Jonah and his behavior. There are parallels between the time spent in the belly of the fish and of Christ in the tomb, Jesus himself said this in the Gospel of Matthew:
For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
The fact that God’s mercy and redemption came through the Jews (although very reluctantly) and was extended to other peoples, reminiscent of what Jesus said to the Samaritan woman in John 4: “salvation is from the Jews”
As interesting as these, and other points are, they are not what really stood out at me after I read Jonah recently. What stood out at me, like a sore thumb, was a single verse in chapter three:
Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he cried, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
That’s it, that’s the only words that Jonah used to evangelize to this city, their only chance at salvation! All the running, and hiding, and pleading with God. Being cast into the ocean, and swallowed by a fish, only to be spit out in three days. All that and then only one sentence. Sure, he may have said more, but the inspired author only included that one verse, then we have good reason to believe that this was all he said.
Why live through all of what he went through to only then utter one sentence? Because he wasn’t evangelizing out of love. He wasn’t telling the people of Nineveh to repent and they would be spared, he was pronouncing judgment on them. He was the ancient equivalent of some Christians who tell people they are going to hell if they don’t repent, except they don’t really desire for the people to repent, they just want to stand like the Pharisee and act more righteous than the sinners around them.
True evangelization must be done out of love, and the desire for the salvation of souls. When Jesus saved the adulterous woman from being stoned, He would’ve been well within the law to pick up a rock and kill her. Rather, He offered love and mercy, but he also told her to “sin no more.” We can love sinners and pray for their conversion but we cannot ever condone the sins.
Chapter four starts out with Jonah being angry at God for sparing Nineveh, and here we find the reason that Jonah ran in the first place:
And he prayed to the LORD and said, “I pray you, LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tar’shish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy, and that you repent of evil.
This gets us right back to the lack of love. Not only did Jonah give an extremely short prophetic message of judgment to the people of Nineveh, he was actually angry with God for not slaying every last person. And the worst part of it is that he knew God is a gracious and merciful God, and yet he failed to mention that to the Ninevites. He didn’t say one word about repentance to them, because he didn’t want them to be saved, this is why he ran away.
God reprimanded Jonah at the end of chapter 4, and showed Jonah that all people deserve to be shown mercy. This is a point that the whole world would do well to learn; everyone is deserving of God’s love and mercy.
We are all called, by virtue of our baptisms, to be evangelists. To bring the good news outside the Church and into the streets. This doesn’t mean that you have to lead a Billy Graham style crusade, or even be a preacher on a street corner (although either one is an acceptable way to spread the gospel), you can share Christ starting with the people closest to you and work out from there. Your job is to spread the seeds, God will make them grow.
We should all be taking part in the New Evangelization. Just think that a few generations ago, Africa was considered mission territory, and now it’s is the place where we get many of our best priests from. My own parish has two priests that are members of a missionary order from Africa, and it isn’t lost on me, the fact that an area that was recently the ones receiving the Gospel is now sending the people to help us re-evangelize the culture. Let’s roll up our sleeves and lend a hand.
Pope Francis has declared this year to be a jubilee year of mercy, so let’s go out and share the good news of Christ with a world in desperate need of His mercy. Let’s share the Gospel of Christ in our words, but just as importantly, let’s share it with our actions. Let’s spread the love and mercy of God in a way that is unlike Jonah, remembering to tell people that God is always there waiting to forgive them. Even when we are in the deepest depths of sin, God still loves us and begs us to return to Him; because God “delights in mercy” (Micah 7:18)
This quote has been attributed to St Francis of Assisi, but even if he didn’t say it, it is so very true: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”
( this post originally appeared at Catholic365.com )