Jonah was a reluctant prophet to put it mildly. In that short book of the bible, a mere four chapters, we read his story. In the proclaimed excerpt, we do not hear of his initial reluctance to take on the task which God calls him to. Jonah was the guy who ended up in the belly of the big fish, traditionally a whale, when he is thrown overboard by the sailors of the ship he has taken to elude God, in an attempt to quell the raging waves the sailors fear will capsize them. Eventually, realizing during his time of reflection in the whale that he could not outrun God, he does what is asked of him – he goes to Nineveh, and delivers God’s message.
Who are the Jonah’s for us today, and are we listening to them? There is angst in the world, and since the New Year it seems to have become heavier. We are now 10 months into a global pandemic, the rumblings of which began a year ago. The ‘prophets’ of science tell what we must do to keep ourselves and those we love safe, and yet since January 1, there have been significant daily increases in the numbers of infection, even here in New Brunswick. To our south, we have seen political unrest the likes of which we had never expected to witness – the storming of a building that is sacred to their democracy by people who have been whipped into a frenzy by an egomaniac. On-line chatter and social commentators warned that this was possible – those ‘prophets’ have been sharing their concern about the increasing audacity of far-right groups and warn that this may well be a Pandora’s box difficult to close. Environmentalists, including Pope Francis, and a young Swedish girl are ‘prophets’ that warn that if we do not do something to counteract the effects of climate change, there will be irrevocable damage to the earth, yet we find it difficult to even separate our trash.
The people of Nineveh listened to their prophet, and “turned from their evil ways.” We appear to find it much harder. It’s a little like me and my commitment to healthy eating. I know how to eat healthy; I know I will feel and look better when I eat healthy, and yet I continue to plow through the chocolate and potato chips. Albert Einstein is believed to have said ‘Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.’ Are we all insane?
Paul writes to the Corinthians, “The appointed time has grown short … the present form of the world is passing away.” As I write this refection, we are less than 24 hours away from the swearing in of Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States – a man as opposite to the one who presently holds that office as you are likely to find. But he is one man … and if we and the American people are pinning our hopes on one man to make changes that need to be made, we are going to be deeply disappointed. We all have changes to make … we all need to take time in the belly of the whale and reflect on how our choices may contribute to the world’s anxiety. And then, we, even if we are as reluctant as Jonah, need to make those changes.
Office of Faith Development, Archdiocese of Moncton