Hearing Jonah’s poetic prayer, the Lord “spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land” (Jonah 2:10). Again, God calls the dry land to appear and sets his earth creature upon it (Gen. 1). What is this new creation to do? What is he to think, knowing that often the fish of sea and the birds of the air and cattle and wild animals and creeping things have dominion over humans? Jonah is thrust from the belly of a fish, freed from entangling weeds and roots; he stands wet and shaken.
“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’” (Jonah 3:1-2). In other words, a great reversal ensues for which our Bible and the whole Christian story are most famous. Jonah will fish for people, baiting them with the word of the Lord. Walking his three-day journey through the city, chanting his concise sermon, he hooks them. “The people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth” (Jonah 3:5).
The word of the Lord is, of course, effectual because it is the word of the Lord, powerful too because every such word carries in it news about the end. “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4). The people feel it, fear it: “the appointed time has grown short,” for “the present form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:29,31). They drop what they’re doing, they turn from their evil ways, they change; and God changes too, casting aside the calamity he would have brought upon them (Jonah 3:10). Our story, for all its drama, finds repose in the unchanging mercy of God for all creation. To be sure, God regrets and condemns human depravity, but cannot hate what he has made (Wisdom 11; Collect for Ash Wednesday).
The story continues. “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’” (Mark 1:14-15). As the Word begotten of the Father, he appeals not only with his brief eloquence but by the power of his whole being. He says, “Follow me,” and they follow him, one after the other, Simon and Andrew, James and John, as if without reflection, leaving their boats to the seas. And yet the life they leave is an evangelica praeparatio to the calling they take. Saying “Follow me,” Jesus also says “and I will make you fish for people” (Mark 1:17).
Jesus, like Jonah, baits these four men with the Word of the Lord. Unlike Jonah, Jesus is himself the Word that hooks them and pulls them from the deep. He calls them to repent and announces that God’s kingdom is at hand. They go because he calls, for he calls out to something deep in them; he pours light into the secret chamber of their hearts. Seeing him, they feel and hear the words of the synagogue song: “For God alone my soul in silence waits; from him comes my salvation” (Ps. 62:1). Fools though they are in many ways, they are right to go out to him.
The good thing about the Good News is Jesus Christ himself. He is life and salvation and hope. He breaks not a bruised reed; he leaves the dimly burning wick. He is so gentle, so good, so kind, so beautiful. And yet he says: “The time is at hand, come!”
Look It Up
God alone includes what God, in love, creates.
Think About It
Drawn from the deep and yet still fishing.