Tag Archives: Jonah

The Sign of Jonah

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. 

Church Leaders

Keep Peter and the rest of the apostles in mind when thinking about church leadership. In today’s reading at Mass from the Acts of the Apostles Peter recalls his experience in Joppa, at the house of Simon the Tanner. Joppa, remember, was the seaport where Jonah began his perilous journey into the gentile world.

After Pentecost, the church seems to do nicely in Jerusalem and Judea as Peter and the others proclaim the resurrection of Jesus, perform miracles and bravely withstand persecution by Jewish leadership. The gospel is proclaimed even in Samaria and Galilee. Near Joppa, Peter heals Aeneas, a paralyzed man in bed for eight years and raises Tabitha from the dead. (Acts 9,31-43)

Then, the tired apostle goes to sleep on the roof of Simon the Tanner’s house in Joppa overlooking the vast sea, where he has a disturbing vision. Instead of his usual  kosher food  a gentile banquet is poured out before him, and reacting like a typical Jew Peter pushes it away.  Three times the vision invites the puzzled apostle to eat before vanishing.

Then, messengers appear at the door from Cornelius, a gentile soldier stationed in Caesaria Maritima, the main Roman headquarters some miles up the coast, asking Peter to come and speak about “the things that had happened.” It’s the gentile banquet that Peter is invited to attend in his dream.

“I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but every nation is acceptable to him,” Peter says, and he goes to Caesaria and instructs Cornelius and all his household and then baptizes them.

Yet, did Peter truly understand all the consequences of his visit to Cornelius? Was the simple fisherman, who spoke Aramaic with a Galilean accent, who felt the pull of home, family and the nets of his fishing boat, ever comfortable in a gentile world? Later, he traveled to Antioch in Syria and then to Rome, where he was killed in the Neronian persecution in the 60’s. Was he ever as confident in a gentile world as he was in his own? Did he ever understand the gentile banquet?

Portraits of Peter in Rome usually portray him firmly in charge of the church, holding the keys of authority tightly in hand. Clearly, he is a rock.

I saw another image of Peter years ago in the Cloisters Museum in New York. He’s softer, reflective, more experienced, not completely sure of himself. There’s a consciousness of failure in his face. He seems to be listening for the voice of the Shepherd, hoping to hear it.

Church leaders never fully understand the mysterious ship they’re called to steer. They have to listen for the Shepherd’s voice.

You Want a Sign

 

    In this Wednesday’s Gospel (Lk 11: 29-32) our Lord says :

    ” This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah. Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.”

    Our Lord seems so frustrated and annoyed with the people of His time ( and I’m sure with us too!) . Like them we want easy fixes to so many sufferings, complications, and problems that plague our personal lives and our society. ” God, please manifest Your great power and heal our world!”

    Our Lord seems to imply that the solutions begin with our changes of heart, where, like the people of Nineveh, we listen to God’s word, repent, and become servants of God’s will which is always our welfare and happiness.

    But we want a ” great sign” to startle us out of our stupor. Our Lord seems to say that His own death and resurrection is that sign.

    Only 2 weeks ago we remembered the anniversary of the passing of my wonderful friend, Fr Owen Lally,CP, the leader of our prayer group. His spirit still lives in us. Our group still stands strong. Through Fr Owen’s guidance we always strove to be ” the sign of Jonah”. Fr Owen wrote:

    ” Our Resurrection with the Lord is the sign of Jonah. Our old self transformed by grace into our true self IS our resurrection. Our entire life’s journey has as it’s goal the renewal of the old man of sin into the new man of grace in Christ. Individually this is wonderful to see, but to bring several brothers and sisters into unity is the true icon of the risen Lord.

    Mutual Indwelling is the result of becoming human together. The sign of Jonah was the survival of our Lord’s being in the belly of the earth. We are in the belly of the whale by our baptism and deep immersion into the water. Whoever is in Christ is a new creation. ‘ Whenever two or three are gathered together in my name I am there.’ ‘ This is the Sign by which all shall know that I have come forth from God, that you love one another.’ The primary way to make new Christians and to get vocations is to love one another and become one in community.”

    The Passionist Community has graciously allowed our Prayer Group (Fr Owen’s Prayer Group) to meet on Sundays, after mass, at the Passionist Monastery in Jamaica, NY. Sometimes when I walk into that Monastery Chapel in the middle of our prayer meeting, I am struck by the awesome power of 30 to 40 people, who have given themselves fully to song and praise, to love and support for one another.  In this place the Spirit of the Risen Jesus is alive in all His Glory, a sign to the world that Love is supreme, that there is hope, that our Lord reigns!  In a way we feel like God’s prophets. We are compelled to walk through our own Nineveh and proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom!

Orlando M. Hernández

Wednesday, 1st Week of Lent

Lent 1
Luke 11,29-32

The Sign of Jonah.

Jonah, starting out, wasn’t much of a sign. He was just a frightened man fleeing from the task God gave him–to preach repentance to the great city of Nineveh.  He couldn’t stop the sailors who thought he cursed their ship from throwing him overboard. He would have been finished if the whale didn’t swallow him and vomit him onto the shore at Nineveh.

That kind of arrival was a sign to the Ninevites. Who wouldn’t listen to someone who came from the belly of a whale? The Ninevites listened to Jonah and begged for God’s forgiveness.

In Jesus, a greater than Jonah is here. He came announcing death, and then resurrection from the belly of the earth. That’s  his great word, his message of hope, his sign of love for us. We hear it during lent and proclaim it to the world. Like the people of Nineveh we should listen to him.

The promise of resurrection and union with God proclaimed by Jesus was at the heart of  St. Paul of the Cross’ preaching and entered  the smallest piece of advice he gave. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, leads us to his Father’s Presence, where death is no more and we have eternal life. Even now, we make that journey in prayer.

“Now when love leads you– you who are nothing– into his sheepfold, the bosom of the Eternal Father, shouldn’t you obey? The gentle Jesus, speaking of his elect, says: ‘Father, where I am I will my servant to be.’ We remain with him, united to him in pure and holy love. there ‘in the bosom of the Father’ and there feed on love, and love divinizes us.” (Letter 1033)

Lord,
I believe in the sign
that lifted you up to bless us,
the sign of your Cross.
You are our resurrection and our life.
Bring us to that place you have prepared for us.
Amen.

Jonah

God sent Jonah to the “enormously big city” of Nineveh. Three days to go through it. No wonder poor Jonah headed off in the opposite direction, seeking smallness, safe and sound. But God doesn’t call us to smallness. “You kingdom come” we pray; let’s work for it.

In this holy time,

a time of grace, Lord,

awaken kingdom dreams in us,

save us from dreaming too small.

You came to Jonah a second time,

Come

send us into Nineveh

as your presence there.

For a homily.