The story of Jonah in many ways reflects the story of our own lives. In a way he is the embodiment of our own action/reactions to the trials of this world. Initially when asked by God to go to Nineveh Jonah panicked and ran away. Not surprising either since Nineveh was the evil city of Assyria, the country that had demolished the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. But as you know from the story God intervened and interrupted Jonah’s cowardly flight. You remember how in the whale he pleaded with God, “In my distress I called to the Lord and he answered me”, and God gave him a second chance. So now when asked again to go to Nineveh, he obediently went. He didn’t make a particularly brilliant entry or give a particularly impressive account of God’s message, but either the people were convinced by the sincerity of his appeal or God helped out again by softening their minds, or perhaps both. Anyway they in turn pleaded with God, fasted, did penance and seeing how they had turned from their evil ways God relented and Nineveh was saved.
Now the parallel with this is God gives us a life to lead and in it we encounter all sorts of upheavals and trials. And so we make mistakes and often our first instinct is to hide from them, not face up to them, but run away. But God seeing our weakness intervenes, props us up, gives us the courage to plead with him, express sorrow for our actions and ask for his help. And he always answers us, forgives our wrongdoing and all is well again, until the next time when we go through the process over and over.
When Jesus in our Gospel passage tells the crowd “the only sign it will be given is the sign of Jonah”, he is saying to them and to us, to listen, watch, observe. He is the sign and his message is to teach true knowledge of God and give lessons on how to live lives that please God. Their responsibility, and ours, is to accept that message, to put complete trust in God. When we fall down we must ash him to lift us up again, we must pray for forgiveness when we do wrong. When he shows Mercy this will encourage us to be kind and understanding to our fellow humans, realising they too have to experience the same trials and upheavals as we have. In this season of Lent we ask God, through prayer, fasting and almsgiving, to give us the courage to face the demands of life and trust that he will help us to progress safely along the right path.
Deacon Vincent McQuaid