In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit-One God, Amen.
The fast of Nineveh is a three-day Holy lent in our Orthodox Tewahedo Church, two weeks before the beginning of the Great Lent. This Fast of Nineveh always begins on Monday, and ends on Wednesday. During this fast, we remember the three days Prophet Jonah spent in the belly of a large fish as penance for his disobedience to God and the atonement of the sinful city of Nineveh. This fast teaches us how a sinner can inherit the kingdom of God through repentance and realized God’s love and concern for all people.
Nowadays we are surrounded with lot scepticism. Some people, forgetting God being omnipotent, have doubt about stories in the bible and saints, like that of Jonah. Those people usually say, How Could God? How Could Jonah stay in the belly of the whale? There is a beautiful story of a teacher and a little girl regarding this… one time …
The teacher told his elementary students , “I don’t want any of you to ever be afraid of going into the sea because there is no sea creatures that can swallow you whole”.
Little girl raised her hand and said, “I learned in church that a great fish swallowed Jonah whole”.
Teacher scoffed at that and said, “that’s impossible that could never happen”.
Little girl said, “When I get to heaven I’ll ask Jonah myself and find out if it was true”.
Teacher replied, “What if Jonah didn’t go to heaven?”
The little girl said, “I know he did! but “if he didn’t, then you can ask him”
Have you ever wanted to run away from something, someone or life? Do you remember moments where you avoided God’s clear call to you; and you decided to do nothing about it or did the opposite? Have you ever been in a position where you wanted to say something to someone and yet, you couldn’t? Or have you ignored telling someone what God wanted you to tell/truth/? This is a story of God’s Prophet, Jonah [from the book of Jonah]. One time 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."
You Know…...Sometimes … God has limits where He says enough is enough. He had enough of their rebelliousness. He send His messenger, Jonah, like He send us His message through many ways, to bring them [to bring Us] to the light i.e Himself. However, 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 have 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 need 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 deed saying, “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them” [Jam 4:16] . Both -who has run away from the church and those within the church without Godly deed - have disobeyed God’s command irrespective of their physical presence. At the beginning Holy Liturgy we say [invite the congregation Sing it along] “ Hallelujah if there be any one of the faithful that has entered the church ... has not heard the Holy Scriptures and has not waited until they finish the prayer of the Mass...has not received the Holy Communion, let him be driven out of the church, for he has violated the law of God, and disdained to stand before the heavenly King”. This is a lesson for each and everyone of us to not hide from the light while we are in His presence. God is calling us to take inside His light so that we could shine in front of others for His glory by participating fully in the liturgy. Let’s stop hiding behind so many useless reasons. He is always Knocking in our heart and waiting our response to heed His calling. As it described in the Holy Bible in the Book of Luke Chapter 15 - God is always looking for us, though we are running away. When we decide to come to Him and when He find us…. there will be more rejoicing in heaven..” Let’s Return to Our God and have a life with Him.
Jonah went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish and he bought a ticket. He made a deliberate and calculated decision. This reminds me of a beautiful story about a young son who took his inheritance and decided to go along way away from his Father, home and brothers to a distant country to live/chase/ his dream to live up with drink, party, song and drug.
Here Let me give you a short definition of what Sin is. Sin is a separation from God and deprivation of Him. Practically or mathematically sin is
Sin = desire to separate from God + opportunity
Desire reveal who you are, your character, value, motivation, purpose. It direct on how we think about life. The way you desire, that is how you think. You really need an opportunity to carry out your desire. We need to prioritize our desire? We need to ask yourself always, is this desire inside me glorify God? Is my plan consistent with the Church Rule? Am I doing God’s will? 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”. Like the Story of the son whose desire was worldly .. how many of us are trying to run from our father ...from God’s grace….from His sacrament….from Loving each other….and satisfy his ego, How many of our brothers/ sisters are smoking hookah, drug, or do things for the sake of satisfaction or/and having experience. One thing is certain, satan will always find a way to provide us a transportation for those who run away from God. When we run from God, we will alway 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 the place where you wanted to go and yet you pay the fare with your emotional, body and soul. We run at the expense of our soul, our life, our happiness and joy. On the contrary, When you run towards God, you reach the place fast and He pays the price with His Grace and Mercy.
When Jonah boarded the ship, the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was about to break. When you run away from God, He will catch up with you and make your life become very stormy so as to turn you towards an eternal life/Him. No one can hide from God. The Psalmist reminds us (139:7-10), “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me.” 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 ship had also suffered.. When we make a bad choice and want to live that life with dedication, others [family, friends and society] around us also face hardship as well. [Ask some of our Fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters who has lost their kids and brethren to Drug and prison].
What about those of us who has made a bad choice in life already?
Are we forever out of God’s favor? No. That is part of the beauty of scripture, It has story after story of people who make a bad choice/ decisions, and yet God uses them - look at the person who was crucified on the right, Titos, Mary the adulterer , and King David; to mention few. Our God is a God of Mercy and chance. In all history, we have seen God to work through our messed up decisions and accomplished great things. God could work/use through all our decisions if we choose Him first.
One benefit of accepting the will of God is that whatever life brings your way, you will have no fear, knowing that if God willed this, it is certainly good, perfect and acceptable even if ? in the short term we don't like it. Therefore, for youth like you and me life is like a boat where two people have to work. One has to row and the other has to hold the rudder (the device that direct the boat to turn right and left). A wise person would hand the rudder to the lord and say, "God, hold the rudder and I will row!". Unfortunately, many times we insist on holding the rudder and we want God to row! We always have to pray saying “O! Lord show us Your ways, teach us your path so that we may know the plans You have for us. I believe Your plan are plans to prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give us hope and a future. [Jeremiah 29:11]
In Summary, all of us have tried at sometime 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 dream and satisfaction, Our Heavenly Father is always ahead of us, longing for and anticipating our return. Let us return to God, Breatherens!!!
O! Lord, I acknowledge how far You went to bring me to life. I remember Your Mercy when my running away turned to nightmare! You were always there to comfort and guide me. It always gives me a 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.
May the prayer of Our Holy Mother be with all of us.