By Michael Smith
Reading from Jonah, 1:1-17
1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, 2“Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” 3But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.
4 But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up. 5Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried to his god. They threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten it for them. Jonah, meanwhile, had gone down into the hold of the ship and had lain down, and was fast asleep. 6The captain came and said to him, “What are you doing sound asleep? Get up, call on your god! Perhaps the god will spare us a thought so that we do not perish.” 7The sailors said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, so that we may know on whose account this calamity has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. 8Then they said to him, “Tell us why this calamity has come upon us. What is your occupation? Where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” 9“I am a Hebrew,” he replied. “I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 10Then the men were even more afraid, and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them so.
11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea was growing more and more tempestuous. 12He said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.” 13Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring the ship back to land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more stormy against them. 14Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, O Lord, we pray, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life. Do not make us guilty of innocent blood; for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.” 15So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging. 16Then the men feared the Lord even more, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows. 17But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
Jonah definitely does not want to do what God has called him to do: to preach repentance to the wicked citizens of Nineveh. Instead, Jonah runs from God, attempting to get as far away from the Ninevites and God’s command as possible. His goal is to take a ship to Tarshish where he will find refuge, or so he thinks. Jonah’s plan is thwarted as God causes a great storm to nearly capsize the vessel, and he is swallowed by a large fish in whose belly Jonah is captive for three days and three nights.
Contrast Jonah with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. On the eve of his crucifixion, Jesus in deep grief prays to God: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want” (Matt. 26:39). Previously, Jesus taught his followers to pray: “Our Father in heaven … Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:9-10). Now Jesus applies his own teaching to his very life.
Jesus shows us that submission to the will of God in our lives is the way through painful, fearful, and dreadful times. The answer is not to run away as far as possible from our problems, but to face them squarely with the assurance that God will never abandon us. Jesus referred to Jonah when he said, “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40). Not even torture, betrayal, injustice, pandemic, death, or the grave can hold Jesus captive. From the heart of the earth, Christ is risen indeed!
The Rt. Rev. Michael G. Smith served as Bishop of North Dakota for fifteen years and is the Assistant Bishop of Dallas. He is an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. He and his wife, the Rev. Lisa White Smith, are the parents of three and grandparents of nine.
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