There is great irony in today’s reading from the Book of Jonah. There is perhaps no better known story about the prophets than the story of the man who was swallowed whole by a great fish or whale which then spat him up on the shore near the city to which God had directed him. Songs have been written about this enigmatic character; even today, sailors refer to an unlucky person on their ship as a Jonah.
However, ironically, while this part of the story is well known, the part about the falling out between God and Jonah after God relents in punishing the Ninevites is often forgotten. We are more fascinated by the notions of God’s wrath decimating sinful people than we are in notion of God’s mercy. That is the first bit of irony.
There is an even more telling ironic twist in Jonah’s words as he argues with God. “I knew that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger, rich in clemency, loath to punish.” And why did Jonah know this? Simply put, they are almost the exact words used to describe God in the Book of Exodus, words uttered by God to reveal himself to Moses. “So the LORD passed before him and proclaimed: The LORD, the LORD, a God gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love and fidelity.”
There is an anecdote that I have heard more than once. As the children of Israel reached the shore after walking through the Red Sea, they found God sitting on a rock weeping. They said to the Lord, “Dry your tears, Lord, we are safe. We made it through the Red Sea unharmed by Pharaoh’s army. They have all drowned.” God turned to them and said through tears, “Don’t you realize that the Egyptians were also my children?”
Today as we pray the Lord’s prayer, let the words about forgiveness soak into our lives and transform us into a people, slow to anger and rich in kindness.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator