“Set out for the great city of Nineveh, and preach against it; their wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah made ready to flee to Tarshish away from the LORD. He went down to Joppa, found a ship going to Tarshish, paid the fare, and went aboard to journey with them to Tarshish, away from the LORD.
The LORD, however, hurled a violent wind upon the sea, and in the furious tempest that arose the ship was on the point of breaking up. Then the mariners became frightened and each one cried to his god. To lighten the ship for themselves, they threw its cargo into the sea.
Meanwhile, Jonah had gone down into the hold of the ship, and lay there fast asleep. The captain came to him and said, “What are you doing asleep? Rise up, call upon your God! Perhaps God will be mindful of us so that we may not perish.”
Then they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots to find out on whose account we have met with this misfortune.” So they cast lots, and thus singled out Jonah. “Tell us,” they said, “what is your business? Where do you come from? What is your country, and to what people do you belong?”
Jonah answered them, “I am a Hebrew, I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Now the men were seized with great fear and said to him, “How could you do such a thing!– They knew that he was fleeing from the LORD, because he had told them.–
They asked, “What shall we do with you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea was growing more and more turbulent. Jonah said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea, that it may quiet down for you; since I know it is because of me that this violent storm has come upon you.”
Still the men rowed hard to regain the land, but they could not, for the sea grew ever more turbulent. Then they cried to the LORD: “We beseech you, O LORD, let us not perish for taking this man’s life; do not charge us with shedding innocent blood, for you, LORD, have done as you saw fit.”
Then they took Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea’s raging abated. Struck with great fear of the LORD, the men offered sacrifice and made vows to him. But the LORD sent a large fish, that swallowed Jonah; and Jonah remained in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. From the belly of the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD, his God. Then the LORD commanded the fish to spew Jonah upon the shore.
Today’s first reading from Jonah conjures up images which evoke fear and anxiety. Imagine the utter terror that Jonah must have felt as he was heaved into the sea, and then swallowed by the great animal! Nevertheless, he knew that he had to let go of his fear and allow himself to be used by God.
The deep truth of the story is that by acknowledging his worry and embracing his despair Jonah was transformed. We tend to dismiss our fear and we allow it to influence our decisions in unhealthy ways. God invites us, like Jonah, to actually enter into our fear and anxiety as a means to embracing a deeper faith. We can actually “use” our uneasiness as an opportunity to connect more deeply with a God who cares for us. And almost in spite of ourselves we connect with other people in the same way.
—Matt Kemper is the Director of Community Service at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati.
Lord God, we avoid fear and try to rid ourselves of any anxiety and keep them from entering our lives. Help us to acknowledge the anxiety in our lives and let it be an invitation to open our hearts more deeply to you. Amen.
—The Jesuit Prayer team
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