In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit-One God, Amen.
Journey of disobedient messenger to a sinful great city.
Jonah means “dove”; dove is a symbol of peace, simplicity, and harmlessness. St. Jerome, citing a Jewish tradition, said Jonah is the son of the widow of Zarephath in Sidon, whom the prophet Elijah raised from the dead [1Kings 17:17-2]. The story of Jonah occurred during the reign of King Jeroboam II of Israel. Nineveh was a great city and was a capital city of Assyria ruled by Sennacherib. Prophet Nahum called Nineveh a city of blood that practiced endless cruelty [Nah.3:1]. The book of Jonah is a story telling the universality of God’s mercy. The compassion of the Lord is not limited to the jews, but extends to all people, even to the enemies of God’s people.
God called Jonah and said: "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.”. Sometimes, God has limits where He says enough is enough. He had enough of their [our] rebelliousness. He sent His messenger, Jonah, as He sends us His message in many ways, to bring them [to bring us] to the light i.e. Himself. “Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD." Jonah made a conscious decision to run and not to listen to the call of God. He ran away from [his] responsibility. What about us? Are we running to or away from God? How many of us are still obeying God's call? Or are we only heeding His call when it matches our desire? We have heard Jonah's story, again and again, every year, and yet we are still living the same "spiritual life" we had last year without confession, Holy communion, or growing spiritually. We are always concerned justly about those who have run from the Church visibly, but what about us who live in the Church. One needs to know that a person not acting on what he knows to be true is as much disobedient as the person who chooses running away from God's presence. St. James in his epistle teaches against being indifferent, lukewarm, or people without deeds saying, "If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is a sin for them" [Jam 4:16]. Both, who have run away from the Church and those within the Church without Godly deeds, have disobeyed God's command irrespective of their physical presence.
Jonah went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish, and he bought a ticket. He made a deliberate and calculated decision. He neglected a direct command from God and tried to escape. When we run from God, we will always find a ship. The devil will make sure that the sailing is on time too. The path away from God is always fast and downhill. When you go away from God, you never get to the place where you wanted to go, and yet you pay the fare with your emotions, body, and soul. We run at the expense of our soul, our life, our happiness, and joy…. eternal destination [heaven]. St. Augustine said this about sin, "The road of sins may satisfy you because it is broad, and many are walking in it. Maybe you can recognize its breadth, but you can not see its end".
Jonah boarded the ship. The LORD sent out a great wind into the sea. There was a mighty tempest in the sea, and the ship was about to break. When you run away from God, He will catch up with you and make your life very stormy to turn you towards eternal life with Him. No one can hide from God.
We are so precious to God that He will never let us go without fighting, be it in storm, sickness, or discontent, so as to bring us to Him. One important thing we shouldn't miss here is that when Jonah ran away and boarded the ship, the people on the boat had also suffered. When we make terrible choices and want to live that life with dedication, others [family, friends, and society] around us also face hardships and consequences as well. [Ask some of our Fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters who have lost their kids and brethren to drugs and prison].
All of us have tried to escape God’s will at some time or another. Some in big ways and some in small ways, to get away from God's will. However, even if we consciously leave our God and His Church, like the prodigal son and Jonah, to chase our dreams and worldly satisfaction. Our Heavenly Father is always ahead of us, longing for and anticipating our return. Let us return to God, brethren!
O! Lord, I acknowledge how far You went to bring me to life. I remember Your mercy when my running away turned into a nightmare! You were always there to comfort and guide me. It still gives me comfort knowing that when I thought I left you behind, you are always there ahead of me, welcoming me to Your home.
O, Lord!, Help me, to do your will. Lord my God; save me according to Your unfailing love.
O, Virgin Mary! Mother of God, remind Him of mercy and not destruction. Remind Him of compassion and not anger. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever.
Excerpt taken from the Book : An Orthodox Spiritual Journey From Fast of Nineveh to Good Friday [Dn Medhanie].