Recently, M and I decided to read stories from my children’s Bible. We read the Prodigal Son and the Rich Man and the Beggar. Then we chose to read The Book of Jonah. Jonah has always been one of my favorite books from the Bible. In the darker times of my younger years, I could relate to the character and his desire to run away from God. We all want to escape God at times. We don’t want to be leaders or visionaries. We don’t want to be holy. We want to attend to our desires; we may call them needs but they are personal wants.
Jonah does not want to listen to the Lord. So he escapes on a ship. In an effort to survive a storm, the crew throws baggage and cargo overboard. After gambling (M’s favorite part for some reason), the sailors Jonah is to blame. Jonah agrees that he should go. The crew is more than happy to say “boy, bye.” Jonah ends up in the belly of a whale where he stays for three days. He then arrives to Nineveh, finally ready to serve as prophet. He preaches repentance; the people proclaim a citywide fast. Even the cattle and family dogs don sackcloth and ashes and refrain from eating and drinking. Nineveh is spared which leads to Jonah becoming self-righteous.
Jonah is incensed when God decides not to destroy Nineveh. He becomes depressed and even considers suicide. Jonah sits outside the city under the shade of a gourd plant. God destroys the plant and Jonah responds in anger. God points out that Jonah was upset by the plant’s death but was willing to kill many people. God helps Jonah realize his shortcomings.
Jonah is a good Lenten reflection. Out of the storm, Jonah finds his purpose. He is able to convert others though he doesn’t recognize it. He lacks the patience and foresight to know he is valued by God. Though Jonah is fearful and petty, God recognizes his potential. Jonah experiences doubt while he is in the desert. God does not abandon him. Jonah is a story of a flawed person who experiences redemption and transformation.