The Prophet Jonah and Discernment
Power Rangers. Transformers: The Last Knight. Guardians of the Galaxy. Wonder Woman. Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Seeing the action-packed trailers of this summer's superhero movies made me think of my own biblical heroes. I tend to gravitate toward the lesser known folks, such as Obadiah or Zephaniah. Their names may not sound familiar, but their lives point to the familiar theme of God choosing and using individuals to accomplish a divine plan. Most importantly, their stories are lessons on discerning and answering a vocation.
Today, I wish to write about Jonah. Here are three discernment insights I have learned from his life as written in the Book of Jonah:
Seeking a deeper relationship with God
God called Jonah to go to Nineveh to preach repentance. Jonah tried to run away from his calling by boarding a ship to Tarshish. On board, he hid below deck in the dark hold of the ship. He was fast asleep while everyone else on board was trying to save the ship from breaking up in a strong storm.
"Fast asleep" is a good metaphor for someone who tries to push God aside. Life does not seem to have purpose or direction. It is mechanical and joyless.
One of the first steps in any fruitful discernment is to wake up and to seek a deeper relationship with God.
What is preventing you from taking that first step? Do you have personal challenges that make you wanto trun away and hole up in the dark? Jonah's experience shows us that nothing good comes out of fleeing and hiding from God's presence. Seeking to welcome God is a better way.
Embarking on a personal repentance and conversion
After being tossed off the ship and swallowed by the great fish, Jonah realized something while inside the fish's belly: God listened to his pleas for help and answered his prayers. Recognizing this led Jonah to a change of heart.
Jonah's conversion showed when God called him the second time. He responded without hesitation or reluctance! He went to Nineveh and converted the whole city. There is no explanation about how he brought about that radical change in people, but I believe that it was because of his own conversion story. The people of Nineveh saw God's grace working through him.
Another step in a fruitful discernment is to do a regular self-examination and be able to recognize God's blessings even in your darkest moments.
Have you recently experienced a crisis of faith? How did you react? Jonah recognized God's faithfulness during a tough time which led to his conversion. His experience shows us that personal conversion makes responding to God's call much easier.
Embracing human flaws and foibles
Jonah may have grown closer to God after his personal conversion, but he was far from perfect. He displayed his own human foibles when he complained to God for seemingly not following through on his promise to destroy Nineveh. His personal outrage continued until God finally responded to him.
Another step in any fruitful discernment is to embrace your human foibles and work on improving them. Do you think you are too shy to be a priest or a brother? Do you get upset or irritated very easily? You may be able to recognize your human foibles, but those are not automatic reasons to disregard the possibility that God may be calling you to the priesthood or brotherhood. Jonah showed us that he had human imperfection, but God still called him!
God is awaiting your response
God responded to Jonah's angry outburst, but that was the end of The Book of Jonah. It does not have a record of Jonah's response. This end may seem abrupt, but I believe there is an important message here: God continues to await our response.
What is your response? I suggest that you begin that response today by attending our Come & See Mission Trip. You will meet real-life heroes - Glenmary priests and brothers who daily bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the mission areas in rural America.