In a culture where running away has become practically virtuous (or, in the least, tolerable), we have much to learn from God in the Old Testament Book of the Prophet Jonah. It is too easy for us in our individualistic worldview to run away from God, attempt autonomy from him, and justify it with the world’s standards. Jonah has plans for his life; what those are, we do not know, but we can know for sure that preaching to the Ninevites is not one of them. God has plans for Jonah’s life, plans that Jonah will try with desperation to avoid.
When God tells Jonah what he wants of him, Jonah essentially says what many of us say in our daily callings: “Not as you will, but as I will.” He runs; he tries to go to where he believes God is not: Tarshish. But God will have his way, so he sends a tempest to disturb Jonah’s journey away from him, only to have him thrown over by the mariners and swallowed whole by a great fish for three days until being vomited onto dry land.
The root of all sin is pride and pride comes in many forms: selfishness, self-centeredness, self-seeking, self-praising, self-flattery, self-love, etc. Jonah falls into this mess by setting himself up against God and imposing his own desire on the world; it is as if he said: “I will do whatever I feel makes me happy.” This kind of self-absorption builds a border between the man inside and everything else outside. With so much “I” and “me” in our sentences, we turn the mind and heart within – all we see is ourselves, we become blind to everything and everyone outside of us, most especially God. Then we experience the dark loneliness of being in the belly of a great fish.
God, however, is a good Father. He sends us tempests to shake us and allows us to be thrown into the cold sea to experience how dark life is without his grace. Our world tells us we must reach out, grab happiness by its horns and make it our own. But God is happiness itself, so to be happy we must be godly. To be a godly man is to be a true Christian, for God became man in Christ. If then, we are to do God’s will, that which gives us life and light in abundance, which will make actually happy, we must turn from our pride and learn from Christ; we must learn self-sacrifice.
Exerpts from the Liturgy – Monday of Ba’utha
Arise, O you sinful ones; let us become penitent.
Each one confess all his sins; and be absolved of his faults.
As God’s mercies overflow; we must pour out our own souls.
Let our voices be one voice; and let us all share one will.
Let us bind up, with one love; our souls as well as our hymns.
Love, like a treasure’s steward; opens the door to our prayer.
Let our mouths be, unto God; like incense filled with sweetness.
Let our fasting be to Christ; hyssop that whitens our hearts.
Let all of us plead to him: O Lord, have mercy on us!
Let each of us cleanse his ears, and his eyes before the Light.
For there may be a weak eye, that cannot behold his rays,
Or perhaps a sickly ear, that does not retain his words.
There may be a twisted will, one who needs Life’s medicine.
There may be a body here, but its thoughts are gone astray.
We only his shadow see, while his mind cannot be seen.
If a great man visits you, he brings honor to your door;
How great will your door become, if the Lord of all enters!
Approach, you penitent, ask for mercies while there is time.
Let each one leave off bitterness of heart, ask for mercies and pity.
Let us heal and so be healed, that we may be fit for work.
This is the time to repent! Let us work hard in pleading!
Wrath now runs upon the earth: cut his course, O penitent!
Let us sow seeds in fasting, that our seed bring a hundredfold.
Let us be workers in prayer, for it is a vine of comfort.
Let us be builders of our hearts, that they be temples of God.