Jonah is the name given in the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh/Old Testament) to a prophet of the northern kingdom of Israel in about the 8th century BCE. The name “Jonah” means “dove” in Hebrew, but Jonah’s character is anything but dove-like. He was chosen by God to bring about moral peace in Nineveh (Nineveh is the capital of Assyria, who destroyed the ten tribes of Israel, 721BC). In this book we see that Jonah does not like pagans and if God saves them, Jonah does not feel like paying the price for it, for he was a Jew. How are we to understand that God saves everyone if, at the same time, he repeats throughout the Bible that Israel alone was chosen, that it alone has the word of life, it alone has the savior, that all that God demands (circumcision, or later baptism, or Eucharist, or sexual prohibition) is absolutely necessary in the order to be saved? Was Jonah really to take up this mission of God? In this article we will not go through the pages of the book of Jonah but we will see some implications for our life and for our society.
Call for holiness: People of Nineveh were living an immoral life. God is the creator of all people and He wants His people to be holy. So He sent Jonah to announce that God is going to destroy them. And for people to repent. In our societies there is existence of immoralities may be like people of Nineveh, as prophets like Jonah we need to carry God’s message to them for the change of heart.
Universal call for salvation: Jonah at the first call rejects his prophetic mission and his way. He thought why I should go to the non-Israelites, when we are the chosen people of God. Jonah doesn’t understand God’s will that is, He is the God of all and not only the people of Israel. We all have the call to attain salvation. As followers of Christ, our mission is to proclaim the good news to all people not only to our fellow Christian or catholic. We should not reject others but need to accept those good values that are found in other religions.
Missionary spirit towards social order: God commanded Jonah as a prophet to raise his voice against the wrong done in the society. In our society we are called to bring about social order. This is the mission for us today, because through baptism we have taken part in the prophetic mission of Christ. That is to announce the good news and to announce the evil. So, being filled with the love of Christ we need to work towards the social order in our society.
Missionaries of mercy: our God is a merciful God. God wanted the people of Nineveh to repent for He loved them too. By a sentence of words of Jonah the people of Nineveh repented. We too need to be merciful like the father, for God’s mercy is beyond boundaries. Pope Francis dedicated a year, as an extra ordinary jubilee (2015-16) year of mercy so that we may be the merciful face of the father.
Segregation in the Church: Jonah as a Jew thought that, God has chosen only the Israelites and they are the favorites of God. The others are not loved by God. This was his wrong notion. This too happens in our churches too. The Church is only of those who are involved in the Church. We need to be Christ minded. We need to put on the mind of Christ that all are followers of the same Christ and being one without segregation we form one body of Christ or the Church.
Call to be obedient: Jonah first disobeyed God’s command but at the second time he does what God had commanded him. We in our life and in society we are called to obey our national laws, religious laws and also obedient to oneself. Especially during this pandemic time we need to follow the laws given by the government. By being obedient to the laws, lets save ourselves and our fellow brethren.
In a 2007 interview, Pope Francis (then Cardinal Bergoglio) said, “Nineveh was the symbol of all the separated, the lost, of all the peripheries of humanity. Of all those who are outside, forlorn. Jonah saw that the task set on him was only to tell all those people that the arms of God were still open, that the patience of God was there and waiting, to heal them with His forgiveness and nourish them with His tenderness.” We need to go in search of those people who live as Nineveh.
To conclude, Jonah is one of God’s prophet. Jonah prefigures Christ’s resurrection and salvation of the gentiles. Jonah is different from the other prophetic books in the sense that Jonah contains not so much utterances pronounced by the prophets but a narrative of his activities. God is not the god of one nation only, He is the God of all peoples and loves all peoples. The book also emphasis that God does not want any human being to perish without having an opportunity to be converted. Conversion is also a sufficient reason for divine forgiveness. Jonah’s acceptance of ministry brought about repentance among the people and people saw the graciousness of God. None of us can escape from God, for He is our creator. He has a mission for each one as His messenger, a mission to fulfill, like Prophet Jonah had. Are you ready for the mission of God?
-Fr. Leslie Gomes