We are given today two very popular scriptures. First is the continuation of the story of Jonah. We heard in yesterday’s readings how Jonah rejected the Lord’s mission for him. His fear led to him boarding a ship, panicking in the midst of the storm, being tossed overboard and swallowed by a large fish, and eventually being spewed out on the shore. Today, after dealing with this fear, he accepts this mission the Lord has given him, goes to Nineveh, and the people in Nineveh took to heart his words. There was true conversion. This won’t be the end of the story, however. After being obedient to what God asked of Jonah, tomorrow we hear of Jonah’s reaction.
Several years ago, when I was stationed in one of our popular retreat houses, a gentleman on the weekend retreat came in to see me. He had explained that over a year ago he was invited to make a significant change in his occupation. His entire retreat last year was about praying about this new opportunity, and when he left the retreat center, he truly felt God was asking him to say yes to this new endeavor. Over the course of that year, nothing unfolded the way he had anticipated. He certainly wasn’t in a better place financially. When he came to see me, he explained the situation and simply asked, “Where did I go wrong in my discernment?” In a nutshell, his was the Jonah story. He heard the call and wrestled with it. He eventually did what he thought God was asking of him, and it certainly didn’t turn out the way he wanted it.
Over the years I’ve met many people who have heard the Lord’s call in numerous ways. And the responses to the calls are as varied as the people themselves. Some respond with enthusiasm. Some may respond with a cautious guard. Others just flat-out drag their feet. And there are some who refuse to respond. You have probably witnessed the same thing.
It is interesting how Jesus responds to the book of Jonah. In Matthew’s gospel, he makes two distinct references to the story of Jonah using it as an illustration in his teaching. First, Jesus comments how the sign of Jonah led to repentance and conversion, and the second time Jesus references it as a prophecy for the Son of Man to spend three nights in the depths of the earth. It reveals Jesus’ acute knowledge of what we now call the Old Testament. Moreover, we are given another example of how Jesus interprets his life in terms of the fulfillment of Scripture.
This Old Testament story is paired with that familiar Gospel text of Mary and Martha. For many years the church has used these two women as icons of two great traditions in the church: action and contemplation. While there always has been some truth in that, excessive conversation about this can become polarizing. Simply put, Mary always ends up in a favorable light. Yet the opposite side has another truth; if we were all Mary’s nobody would ever be fed. What Jesus points out to Martha is that she is anxious and worried. And that seems to be a bigger concern to Jesus than what they have to eat or making sure she’s adequately following the cultural norms.
So, both readings tie back to listening to the Lord and to prayer. Psalm 46 initiates with reminding the singer of the awesomeness of the Lord and with that in the foreground then whatever fears, anxieties, or worries we may have will easily be calmed when we can “Be still and know that I am God.”
Fr. David Colhour, C.P. is the local superior of St. Vincent Strambi Community in Chicago, Illinois.