Jonah is a pretty relatable guy. Not only is he the most reluctant of the prophets (doing God's will doesn't always come easy to us), but his actions wind up demonstrating how God works in our ultimate best interest. Father Steve examines the lessons of Jonah today, in the Word on Fire blog.
I have come to understand the story of the prophet Jonah as a combination of comedy, action adventure, and densely textured theological narrative—all this is meant to communicate the mystery of vocation, mission, the identity of the God of Israel, as well as his relationship with both Israel and her enemies. All this is wrapped up tightly in one of the best-told tales in all of the Bible.
The Book of the Prophet Jonah makes it clear from the beginning that Jonah doesn’t want to be a prophet; he is summoned by the Lord to fulfill a prophet’s mission but he goes the complete opposite direction of where the Lord wants him to go! Once he reaches his destination, the scriptures tell us that he barely opens his mouth to speak God’s word of truth, and much to his surprise (and even to his consternation), he becomes the most successful prophet in the history of Israel.
I experience Jonah’s laconic proclamation as one of the most creatively comedic moments in Biblical literature: “Forty days more and Ninevah shall be destroyed.” Read the elegantly crafted prophetic texts of Isaiah or Jeremiah and compare then with Jonah’s proclamation that, in its brevity, seems like a throw-away line. Yet it is Jonah’s seemingly whispered warning that is what convinces the Ninevites to repent.
The story of Jonah is meant to delight and to teach. What is the lesson?
One way to look at the lesson of the Book of Jonah is that most of us are, like Jonah, reluctant prophets. We have received the Word of the Lord. We have been given a mission through our Baptism to speak God’s Truth. But does our witness resonate with scarcely a sound above a whisper?
Granted, the Lord has a way of doing magnificent things with whatever we are willing to give him (no matter how small). The Book of the Prophet Jonah demonstrates the principle that we can, like Jonah, scarcely open our mouths to give testimony to the truth and God can give that witness the power to bring down empires. God can work with our weakness—but I don’t think that the lesson here is a ratification of our reluctance or reticence...
Sunday, February 6, 2011,
WGN America: Word on Fire with Father Robert Barron features the fourth portion of Father Barron's Conversion series, which is the story of Jonah. In addition, the program will showcase the highlight reel from the entire 10-part CATHOLICISM series, which you can view by clicking here.
Be sure to tune in Sunday at 9:30 am EST and 9:30 am on the local Chicago affiliate. Become a Sponsor of the only Catholic TV program on a national, commercial network! We need your support. Please contact Patrick Thornton at pthornton@WordOnFire.org. Thank you!
Father Paul Murray, an Irish Dominican from the North of Ireland and a close friend of Father Barron, visited the Word on Fire office yesterday on his way home from giving a two-week retreat to the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville, Tennessee.
You may remember the “Update from Rome”
on the Word on Fire Blog wherein Father Barron met up with Father Murray in the Eternal City. He spoke of Father Murray’s connection with Mother Teresa, acting as her spiritual director in the later years of her life and writing a book on her “dark night of the soul,” which is entitled I Loved Jesus in the Night.
In another of his books, A Journey with Jonah: The Spirituality of Bewilderment, Father Murray goes into great depth on the spiritual and theological significance of the biblical figure of Jonah, drawing out the details of the “type’ of Christ that is on display in this interesting and bewildering character. Here is in insightful passage from the book, which speaks of “illusory” versus “real” religion...