Jonah 1:1-2:2, 11
Today the church gives us two complementary readings which
when we hold these readings juxtaposed, they highlight each other in unique
First is the beginning of the reading of Jonah where Jonah
is asked by the Lord to go and preach.
We are all familiar with this story and may even know the details by
heart. Johan’s fear gets the best of
him and he runs away. It is a story of
disobedience. It’s the story of one who doesn’t trust. It is a story of one who runs away. It is a
story of a heart of fear. It is
included in scripture because it is our story too. For all of us have been in places where we
didn’t trust, we purposefully chose to
be disobedient, we chose to run away. We
have all had times where our hearts were filled with fear.
Frequently with this story, we focus more on Jonah’s running away from the Lord and that is why he
gets in the boat. But which task is
bigger, preaching against an entire city or being thrown out of a boat at sea
in the middle of a storm without a life jacket?
Jonah is actually the one who
says "Pick me up and throw me into the sea, that it may calm down for you." He is the one who has mercy on the men in the
boat. He is willing to die at sea so
that these strangers can continue on in safety.
He wasn’t quite so willing to die
for the people of Nineveh. The fact is,
in the face of death Jonah displays greater mercy.
In the gospel, it begins not with a parable but with a fact. The scholar is putting Jesus to the
test. Jesus immediately turns it around
and now the scholar is answering Jesus’ question
by quoting the law back to Jesus . The
scholar doesn’t let up. But his next question
isn’t so pointed. "Because he wished to justify himself", was his motivation for asking Jesus the "Who
is my neighbor" question. What happened
to the test this "scholar of the law"
started with? Jesus has diffused his
test and does so by showing mercy to the
one who started all this testing. It is
the scholar himself that uses the word "mercy". Jesus simply commands him to exercise the
authority and power of this gift.
This past weekend, a teacher was sharing with me about the
need to be strict with the students in her class. Many of her
fellow educators are very strict in enforcing deadlines and rules. This particular teacher was saying she has
gotten much farther when she shows her students a little bit of mercy. She was saying that instead of being so strict to
the rules, she finds most of her students rise to new levels of responsibility
and work harder at grasping an understanding of the material when she is more
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Fr. David Colhour, C.P. is on the staff of Christ the King Passionist
Retreat Center, Citrus Heights, California.