Jonah. Hearing my own name isn’t exactly the sweetest sound. It sounds weird to the point of awkward to be honest. Like the name doesn’t belong to me. So Prophet Jonah doesn’t really triggers a special interest to me even though he’s my namesake. I can more of relate to the name John (St. John the Baptist).
Two Sundays ago, the gospel was about prophets. I was away for a week’s worth of travel abroad and although Singapore was a real enriching experience, blogging and exercise sadly had to take a halt so here I am updating this new series under Lector Duties two Sundays late. A dear priest’s homily centered on the three characteristics of being a prophet. First on the list – and the only one I will relay here – is that prophets are called by the Lord. It’s certainly not a choice decided upon by anyone. You can’t be a prophet just because you want to. Same way that you can not escape being one when the Lord appointed you. He cited Prophet Jonah as a great example to prove his point.
The story of Jonah. He was called by the Lord but he did not want to be a prophet. He ran from the Lord, he spent his fortune to run from the lord. The Lord sent a big fish, swallowed him and when he was spitted out lo and behold! Jonah was again at the place where the Lord called him. You cannot hide from the Lord when he called you.
For some strange reason, I felt that Prophet Jonah was me. That everytime “Jonah” was uttered it was actually referring to me. Probably because at 30, I am at a reset. I suddenly did not have a solid path to walk on. I have told a Carmelite nun about it in half sobs and tears that I don’t know what God wants to do with me. Or maybe I know but I’m reluctant to obey. Anyway, that Sunday triggered my interest in the Book of Jonah. I had a blog post before entitled “Jonah and the Big Fish” narrating my wonderful experience with the whalesharks of Oslob, Cebu but it was in no way biblical. I don’t know the prophet so when the homilist said that Jonah tried to escape his calling, was swallowed by a big fish while enroute to his escape plan (poor Jonah), and was vomited into dry lands where the Lord called him, I was amazed. I needed to validate that as that was something my ignorance has never heard of.
I started searching for a map and here’s what I found:
Jonah was from Gath-hepher (four miles north of Nazaareth). Jehovah called Jonah to prophesy against Nineveh which was 500 miles east (about a month of land journey). Jonah tried to disobey God and flee on to the opposite direction going westward to Tarshish (southern tip of Spain) which was 2500 miles west (about a year long of sea travel) from a port called Joppa. That’s how far west he wanted to escape Nineveh.
Their ship encountered severe storm that prompted Jonah to be thrown into the sea where a big fish swallowed him. He spent 3 days and 3 nights into its belly. He was spitted alive on to a dry land, which was not exactly stated where but it was mentioned that after a day’s worth of journey into the city he finally did what God had to order him twice for the city of Nineveh. Thus, it is confirmed: he was even placed closer to Nineveh than where he was first called after he planned and tried to escape.
The story of Prophet Jonah offers lessons on ministry: insights like how a prophet is made by putting him in the darkest deepest of places for 3 days and 3 nights before he can actually prophesy and preach. His story reminds us that if all Christians are prophets then we are all called to be part of other people’s salvation and not mere bystanders who do not have real concerns if others are unfaithful or displeasing to God.
I know Prophet Jonah now so in a way, at least on one book from the Old Testament I can say goodbye to the dark nights of ignorance.
As a lector, I of course don’t get to proclaim the gospel inside Holy Mass. My natural inclination is to disect the readings and psalm and these passages from Ezekiel 2:2-5 caught my attention the most. To me, it speaks of love of a doting father to a child he spoils:
Because they are stubborn and obstinate children, I am sending you to them, to say, “Lord Yahweh says this.” 5 Whether they listen or not, this tribe of rebels will know there is a prophet among them.
In addition to this, I think Prophet Jonah’s prayer is something I should know by heart, too.
4 For you threw me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the floods closed round me. All your waves and billows passed over me;