By Carol Glatz
CNS photo/Paul Haring
By Drew Dillingham
Catholic News Service
(Eighth in a series)
ROME — Everyone knows the story of the prophet Jonah. He is commanded by God to prophesy to Nineveh, home of one of Israel’s greatest enemies. Despite receiving God’s commission to save 120,000 people from destruction, he instead chooses to flee on a ship, is thrown overboard by its sailors and ends up in the mouth of a great fish or whale.
“The Story of Jonah” by artist Fritz Eichenberg. (CNS photo/courtesy of Jundt Art Museum in Spokane, Wash.)
Many fears could have caused Jonah to flee — for example, fear of persecution from his fellow countrymen for helping an enemy or his own fear of helping a nation he despised. Some commentators also remark about his fear of undertaking such a monumental and generally undesirable task — imagine being appointed to confront your nation’s greatest enemy and asking them to repent or face destruction!
Nevertheless, the threat of dying in the belly of a fish at the bottom of the sea changes Jonah’s mind, and after praying for God’s help, Jonah ends up on the shores of Nineveh anyway. God again commands Jonah to prophesy to the people and this time Jonah accepts. After only “a single day’s walk announcing, ‘Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown,’ the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth” (Jonah 3:4-5). Thus, the entire city was saved from destruction.
To me, this story has two central themes. First, we must always be attentive to true warning signs and be willing to react to them. Though they were sinful, the people of Nineveh recognized the sign of God’s mercy and they repented, ultimately preventing the destruction of their city. Second, we cannot allow our fears to prevent us from doing what is right. Out of fear, Jonah tried to hide from his responsibilities. Thankfully God intervened, but if he had not, Jonah’s fear would have led to the destruction of the Ninevites.
These two themes are why this story came to my mind as we discussed in class, this week at the Gregorian, the potential warning signs and “grooming behaviors” of sexual offenders. Research shows there are certain behaviors, if exhibited by adults such as teachers, priests, coaches or relatives, that could be warning signs or grooming (Read More)