The three readings in our lectionary these last days from the Book of Jonah reveal a man who seems unchanged by the amazing things that happened to him. At first Jonah refuses God’s command to call the great city of Nineveh to repentance. He sees no sense to it. Then, thrown overboard by sailors, he’s swallowed up by a whale that deposits him on the beach at Nineveh.
He finally preaches in the great city and it repents. But here at the end, Jonah’s angry. He doesn’t seem to appreciate what God has done. He’s still a very small-minded, unchanged man, it seems.
Jesus uses the story of Jonah in the gospel as a sign of the power of the resurrection. The resurrection is God’s power at work. It’s not human power, God’s power is at work. God raises Jesus from the dead, but God also raises up people like Jonah, who don’t altogether grasp God’s plan, they’re not perfect, they’re weak even till the end.
Pictures of the story of Jonah are common in the Christian catacombs in early Rome, where they’re found over the remains of someone deceased. The whole story is usually there, from Jonah getting thrown off the boat, to being swallowed up by the whale, to Jonah sitting in the shade of the vine.(see above)
The early Christians recognized the wisdom in the stories of the Jewish scriptures much more than we do today, so you wonder if they saw themselves and their loved ones who passed on in the Jonah story.
Most of the people in the catacombs were ordinary Christians, not all heroic saints. They were conscious of their weak faith as citizens of this great city, but they also recognized the power of Jesus Christ who, in his resurrection, brought life even to those of little faith.
Jonah was their patron saint.