The book of Jonah is perhaps one of the most interesting books in the Bible. Compared to the other Minor Prophets, his book is more like storytelling than usual prophecy and oracles. Para kang nagbabasa ng children’s story, with special participation of the wind, the waves, the worm, the withered plant at syempre yung great fish. Gusto ko man sabihing whale to be consistent with the W’s but to set the fact straight, it was a great fish, not a whale, as the Bible says. This makes the story more captivating!
Okay, back to the background of the story. Jonah is a kind of character many of us can relate to. Unlike the prophet Amos who was called into the ministry from being a farmer and vinedresser, sabihin na nating Jonah is a prophet by profession. If there are people who consider themselves to know the will and messages of God more than the others, Jonah can enlist himself. He knows the Lord intimately. He has a personal relationship with the One who made the heavens and the earth. He is on a very privileged position.
Kung ilalapat natin sa context natin, Jonah is a devoted Christian. He goes to church, has a ministry, attends to his personal devotions – he got all things working out well under his Christian sleeves. Until the Lord called him to do something that is quite uncomfortable to him. He was called to go out of his comfort zone and bring the Christian message he enjoys to people who are so wayward and unpleasant in their ways. Ipinapadala siya sa isang mission trip.
Going on a mission trip is an exciting experience. Lalo na kung ang pupuntahan mo ay isang napakagandang lugar, away from home and your usual environment. A few years back, I was involved to go on a mission trip which lasted for more than a month. It also happened that the place we will be staying is on a seaside. Imagine, araw araw mong makikita yung dagat! I really enjoyed those moments – nagtuturo ng mga bata sa tabing dagat, nagbabasa ng Bible o ng kahit anong libro sa dalampasigan, sinasalubong ang high tide at low tide, namumulot ng starfish, naghihintay ng sunset at kumakain ng sariwang mga seafood, straight from the saltwater. It was more like a vacation than a mission, I confess. One more thing, the people are so receptive to the message, or at least they want us to feel that way. We’ve opened Bible studies and has successfully led a number of people to accept Jesus. If all people will just be as receptive as them when it comes to the gospel, there will be wonderful results to world evangelism. Yet, this is not always the case.
Jonah was sent to a place called Nineveh, where people are known for violence and all the rude descriptions you can think of. It was even described that their wickedness has reached God himself. God sent Jonah to warn them that they will receive God’s judgment should they not repent from evil and change their ways.
But Jonah, instead of going to Nineveh, went instead the other way – to Tarshish. He clearly disobeyed God. Kagaya natin. God asks us of one thing but we choose to do the exact opposite. Yet God’s plan can never be thwarted by man’s disobedience. So while Jonah was on his way to Tarshish on a boat, God used the waves and the wind to knock Jonah to his senses. Dahil sa kanya mapapahamak pa ang kapwa niya mga pasahero! Soon enough, Jonah realized his mistake and allowed himself to be thrown into the sea. Then and there, the waves and the winds calmed, and his co-passengers worshipped the Lord.
God is still for the salvation of Nineveh, but he is also concerned with the safety of His messenger Jonah, so He sent a great fish that swallowed Jonah. For three days and three nights, Jonah was inside the belly of the fish, and there he realized the extent of his disobedience and the greatness of God’s grace to him. The book, after all is not about the great fish but about the great God.
The fish brought Jonah to Nineveh. Hindi talaga magpapapigil si Lord. Once again God instructed Jonah to warn the people that if they do not turn away from their wickedness, they will soon perish. This time, Jonah obeyed. He preached in the middle of the busy streets of the city and the people responded to his message positively! The king issued a decree that all of the people and all their livestock are to repent from their sins and end any form of violence!
It was a compelling reason for Jonah to be thankful and to celebrate because the Ninevites has come to their senses, yet Jonah was far from being happy. After his task was done, he stationed himself at a distance, waiting for what will happen. And there, the kindness of God has confronted Jonah to his face.
Jonah knew God to be merciful and forgiving. And He doesn’t want the Ninevites to receive the privileged position he enjoys with the Lord. He wants exclusivity. To Jonah, the people of Nineveh doesn’t deserve the kindness of God, much more His blessings. Little did He know that God’s mercy and forgiveness isn’t exclusive. It is free for all who sincerely seeks for Him.
This is Jonah. Minsan, ganito rin tayo. We often think that we are exclusively entitled to the blessings of God because we are the ones who “takes him seriously” in our speech, schedule and style. But God’s grace extends even to people we like the least. It extends to people who doesnt have the same faith and culture as ours. It extends to the rich and to the poor. It is not our duty to choose who God wants to bless and bring to His kingdom. Our duty is to bring the message.
Jonah sulked because God has shown mercy to “undeserving” people”. However, who is deserving by the way? That is why I am forever grateful for God’s grace. Are you?