By Robin Gomes
In his homily at Mass, Pope Francis reflected on the Old Testament figure of Jonah who ran away from God who wanted him to be His prophet to preach repentance to the people of Nineveh or they would be punished. Setting sail for Tarshish, he had to be thrown overboard to calm a furious storm that the Lord had started in the sea. A whale that swallowed him, threw him out on the shore after three days, an image, the Pope said, that reminds us of Christ’s Resurrection on the third day.
Man repents, God relents
Tuesday’s first reading continues Jonah’s story where, this time, he obeys God, goes to preach to the Ninevites who convert and God relents from punishing them. The Pope said this time the “stubborn Jonah” did his job well and left.
Jonah indignant at the Lord's mercy
The Holy Father said that tomorrow’s Mass reading will show Jonah angry at the Lord because he is too merciful and because He does the opposite of what he threatened to do.
Jonah says to the Lord that it is better to die than to continue this work as a prophet of God, who in the end does the opposite of what He sent him to do.
Saying this, Jonah goes out of the city and builds a hut from where to see what would happen to the city. The Lord then makes a gourd plant grow over the prophet to provide him shade. But soon God causes the plant to wither and die.
Jonah is again outraged at God over the gourd plant. The Lord tells Jonah that if he could be concerned about the gourd plant, for which he did nothing, why couldn’t He have mercy on a great city like Nineveh.
The Pope noted that the heated exchange between the Lord and Jonah is between two hardheads.
While Jonah is stubborn with his convictions of faith, the Lord is stubborn in His mercy. He never leaves us, he knocks on the door of the heart till the end. He’s always there.
Jonah was stubborn because he put conditions on his faith. He is the model of those Christians who always put conditions saying, "I am a Christian on condition that things are done this way." They accuse that these changes are not Christian, they are heresies. The Pope said they are Christians who condition God, who condition the faith and the action of God.
Christians who put "conditions" are afraid to grow
The Holy Father emphasized that “conditions” lock up many Christians in their own ideas and they take up the ugly path of ideology against the path of faith. He said such Christians are afraid of growing, of the challenges of life, of the challenges of the Lord, of the challenges of history and are attached to their first convictions and ideologies. They are Christians who continue to “prefer ideology to faith” and move away from the community, afraid to place themselves in the hands of God and prefer to judge everything from the “smallness of their hearts".
The story of Jonah presents two figures of the Church today, the Pope said. One is rooted in its ideologies and the other shows the Lord who approaches all situations without disgust. Our sins don’t disgust the Lord, the Pope said. He approached and caressed the lepers and the sick because He came to heal, He came to save, not to condemn.