Disclaimer: This blog post is not detailed, assuming the readers already know about the content of the Bible. To know more about the Bible and the Book of Jonah in particular, please visit the following link: https://www.stmarystmark.ca/books-articles/articles/174-jonah-s-fasting-fast-of-nineveh
Last week, from February 10 to February 12, I fasted three days for Jonah’s fast. Orthodox Christians do this in order to commemorate the three days Prophet Jonah spent inside the fish and Nineveh’s repentance. This year, I actually cared about fasting and reading the book of Jonah, not because I didn’t know the story, but because I never related to it, nor understood in what context I could apply the lessons learned in my life.
After reading the four chapters of the book of Jonah and researching the meaning behind them, the prophet’s story hit me close to home, especially the last chapter. The chapters might seem short, but you have to read them in between the lines to grasp the main message. Here are the things I learned.
First, the thing I noticed about Jonah is that he’s not the prophet you expect him to be, which is almost relieving: I found myself in his weaknesses. Don’t we all have moments where we want to run away instead of going after what we are called to do? Sometimes, what God wants us to do is scary and overwhelming and facing that can feel daunting. I personally know that if I had to preach God’s words and announce the destruction of a city, I would run away too, probably faster than Jonah did! Yet God insists to use Jonah for good no matter how fearful and imperfect he is. Therefore, I learned that no matter how insecure I feel, God loves me and wants me to fulfill a purpose.
Second, unlike previous events (think of Sodom and Gomorrah for instance), the city of Nineveh isn’t destroyed since the Gentiles repented. Throughout the Bible, it is surprising to see that Gentiles believe in God before His own people do. Remember the time Christ marveled at the Centurion’s faith and said, ‘Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith’? That’s one example, but there are many more.
When I realized that the people in Nineveh were Gentiles, it reminded me of Saint Peter’s revelation to take the Gospel to the Gentiles: even after the times of Jonah, there was still this belief that God wants to save His people only. That leads us to our third point: Jonah’s anger after Nineveh’s salvation. I couldn’t understand at all why Jonah was angry. I mean, the people are saved, wasn’t that the point?
The problem was that I was reading Jonah’s story from my own perspective and not being in the prophet’s shoes. As a matter of fact, I underestimated that he had just gone through a great spiritual warfare. He was stuck inside a fish for three long days! It must have been frightening, lonely, uncomfortable, and dark as an experience to live. Therefore, in Jonah’s mind, if God, though loving and kind, allowed Jonah to go through this trouble to learn from his mistake, shouldn’t He do the same with the Gentiles? Why was it so easy for Him to forgive them?
When we indeed compare our spiritual experiences and relationship with God to the ones people have, we tend to be hurt like Jonah and think that God acts unfairly. But just as God asked Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’, we must as ourselves the same question. The answer is obviously no because who are we to judge? God is just and merciful. Jonah acted out of selfishness when he got angry.
Finally, the last two verses of the chapter are the ones that hit me the most. Jonah pitied a plant because he needed it, but what about humans? Jonah had difficulty accepting the Gentiles because they didn’t share the same values, beliefs, culture, etc. as him. Nonetheless, God’s response is that He loves us ALL.
As Christians, we unconsciously tend to do like Jonah because it’s easier to love someone who’s like us than someone who isn’t, especially when it comes to beliefs. However, it is crucial to remember that Christ died on the cross for everyone, even the ones who hurt us, make fun of us, persecute us, or who are simply different than us.
What do you think of Jonah’s story and the fast? Any particular tradition or thought you want to share? Let me know!