“The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth…When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.”
-Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Have you ever felt like you needed to do something that you really did not want to do? Have you ever done something you knew you really should not have done? Do you remember the outcome of those situations? Did you feel guilty? Did your actions get you into trouble?
Jonah was a prophet of the northern kingdom of Israel in the 8th century BCE. One day the call of God came to Jonah to leave the safety of his homeland and proclaim God’s message to the people of Nineveh. Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrians who destroyed Samaria, the northern kingdom’s capital in 722 BCE. Naturally, Jonah had doubts about how his message would be received by the people of Nineveh, so he decided to run from God’s call. Jonah boarded a ship heading for Tarshish and tried to get as far away from Nineveh as possible. To make a short story even shorter, Jonah gets thrown overboard and found himself trapped inside the belly of a giant fish. After three days and three nights, Jonah cried out to God for forgiveness and salvation before being miraculously spit out of the fish’s mouth onto dry land. Once more Jonah heard God’s call to go to Nineveh only this time, Jonah obeyed. When he finally shared the message with the people of Nineveh, they repented of their evil ways and turned to God.
I think we can all relate to Jonah in some way or another. We have all found ourselves running at times from things we knew we should do just as we have all done things we knew we shouldn’t do. While most of our actions may not have landed us in the belly of a giant fish, we have probably all found ourselves in a situation or two that smelled about the same. Jonah’s story reminds us that nothing is ever lost or wasted. Sometimes we must go through a failure or fall to embrace our truest identity with the confidence needed to succeed. Without question, Jonah should have gone to Nineveh to first time, but God redeemed his mistake and gifted him with an incredible story that is still being read almost 3,000 years later.
Sometimes in life we allow ourselves to get beat down by our mistakes and sins instead of learning and turning from them. While we should not strive to mess up on purpose, the detours of life can be powerful teachers on the spiritual journey. Catholic missionary and monk, Albert Hasse, encourages us that “instead of treating your sinfulness and guilt as a dead-end street, approach them as teachers who are instructing you about yourself” (Coming Home to Your True Self, p. 72). As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20).
In the belly of a giant fish, Jonah gain self-awareness. He realized his failure, confessed his sin, and continued his mission. Not only did God restore Jonah’s life, but he saved the people of Nineveh once they listened to Jonah’s message. Instead of becoming discouraged, may we learn from our own mistakes, confess our sins, and extend the grace we have been given to others.