A few reflections on today’s Mass readings.
Jonah 3:1-10 — The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, ‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’ So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: ‘By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. 9 Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.’ When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
This was the second time Jonah was told by God to go to Nineveh and warn them to change or perish. The first time, the prophet tried to evade his duties by taking a ship to Tarsis, in Southern Spain. One can understand the reluctant prophet. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, and the Assyrians were known for being very creative in the art of killing non-Assyrians. In contemporary terms, imagine if you are told to go to Jalisco, Mexico to inform the local drug cartel to stop their illegal business or else. I doubt there would be many volunteers to do such thing.
You know the story, Jonah got on the boat to Tarsis, a storm ensued, and he was tossed out of the ship to placate the ire of God. Then God arranged for a big fish to catch Jonah who had to pray from the belly of the fish for God’s relief. While Jonah was praying, the fish was moving back towards land. The fish vomited the prophet on dry land where God instructed him to go to Nineveh. We are not told how Jonah got rid of the fishy aroma impregnating his body but he eventually made it to Nineveh and did what God had told him to do. Nineveh repented as described in today’s reading, and the wicked city was spared.
Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.
Psalm 24 (25): 4-5
Both Nineveh and Jonah had to repent. To repent is to turn and pursue a path opposite to the way of disobedience. Jonah got a clear sign from God, he had to get very near death, experience three unforgettable days inside a fish, and the walk a long way to Nineveh to deliver God’s message. When you have time please read The Sign of Jonah and the Binding of Satan, a very interesting article by Emmett O’Reagan, shedding a lot of light on the matter of Jonah and Nineveh’s unexpected repentance.
The readings get very interesting when we get to the Gospel part;
Mark 1: 14-20 — Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
It is interesting that Jesus picks fishermen to help him out in preaching his message of repentance. It is also interesting that the fishermen follow him right away without hesitation in a manner similar to the Ninevites who heeded Jonah’s message. Curiously enough, Simon the son of John (Yohanan) the chief fisherman, is called Simon son of Jonah at the time he is selected to be the leader of the Apostles.
Jonah means “dove” in Hebrew. Following the methodology of the Fathers of the Church, I always like to look at the imago, the image that Scriptures place before us. Jonah’s name is very significant. Early in Scripture we find a dove in the story of Noah. A dove is sent out of the ark and the bird returns holding an olive branch in its beak.
Genesis 8: 10-11 — [Noah] waited another seven days, and again he sent out the dove from the ark; 11 and the dove came back to him in the evening, and there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf; so Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth.
That is the first time in the Bible when a dove is sent out of a boat, it happens again when the prophet Jonah (dove) is tossed into the raging waters. Jesus is standing in the waters of the River Jordan when the Spirit rests on Him in the form of a dove. The three images are connected to new beginnings: the post-flood world, the sending of Jonah in a new proper direction, and the beginning of the ministry of Jesus Christ.
When Jesus calls Simon Peter, “son of Jonah” in Matthew 16, he connects that event with the “sign of Jonah” promised earlier to the Pharisees and the Sadducees both in Matthew 14 and 16. I never imagined all the ramifications of those words. In my new and third book in English, They Asked for a Sign, I try to cover all the connections. It is a fascinating theme. I am currently working on it. I hope you enjoy it. The book tries to put and end to all the nonsense spewed over the last five centuries trying to destroy the traditional Catholic interpretation of Peter as Petrus, the Rock upon whom the Church was founded.
I hope to have this book finished soon in Spanish and English.