Deacon Raymond’s Reflection

 Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, B

January 21, 2018

          Our kids, when they were young (I too, still), loved Dr. Seuss’s books, especially “How the Grinch stole Christmas”. This ugly green miser hates everyone and everything except his faithful dog, Max. He hates because his heart is “two sizes too small,” and as a consequence he is simply unable to let any love inside. He hates Christmas. He cannot stand the Whoville town people celebrating Christmas singing with love and joy. We sometimes have this “Grinch heart” inside us. We are not alone. Even the Bible is full of men and women who, despite their best efforts, suffer from a chronic lack of love. Jonah is one of the striking examples of a heart in need of expansion. God calls, Jonah runs.

           Book of Jonah is one of my favourites in the Old Testament. Four short chapters. The book begins when Jonah gets a call from God to go to Nineveh, tell people to turn from their sinful ways and repent. But Jonah does exactly the opposite. He drops everything and races off to Joppa and boards a ship to Tarshish, apparently trying to get as far from God’s words as possible (Don’t we all sometimes think we can hide from God?) So God sends a terrible storm. Jonah admits to the crew that he is fleeing God. With great reluctance, they toss him overboard. The sea turns quiet. Jonah in turn is swallowed by a “large fish”. Residence there for three days gives Jonah plenty of time to think and meditate. He prays a psalm-like thanksgiving prayer about what he has done. (Jonah 2) God hears him and saves him from the large fish. “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.” (This Sunday’s First Reading, Jonah 3:1-5). Jonah finally does what the Lord asks: He travels to Nineveh, a sinful city to proclaim the Lord’s judgment. The Ninevites, even their King, almost immediately repent and the merciful God “changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon Ninevites” (Jonah 3:10). On the surface, Jonah seems to be a fearful man who whole heartedly obeys God’s will. Instead, of being happy with the success, Jonah, at the end of the book, broods over Nineveh, angry with God for the grace given to the people who are big sinners whom he hates.

           To truly understand Jonah’s bitterness and fear, it’s important to understand what Jonah is facing when God tells him to go to Nineveh. During his time, the Ninevites were enemies of the Israelites, violently oppressing the nation of Israel. God’s command for Jonah, therefore, is not just unreasonable but was terrifying and seemingly impossible. That’s why Jonah runs from God’s will. He is terrified of the enemy. Proclaiming God’s judgment to an enemy nation is a suicidal task. Jonah figures the odds of the Ninevites listening to God’s command are too small for him to risk his life and dignity. Also he knows that if he succeeds at winning over the Ninevites to the Lord, God will show his abundant mercy, grace and love to them, ”the undeserving people”. Jonah wants his enemies to suffer. He knows the Lord has been faithful to the Israelites and to him as well. He knows the Lord loves him. But it’s hard to accept God extending the same love to his enemies.

           Like Jonah, we often have God’s words, compassion, forgiveness, mercy, love, … and even the actions to match those words. But our hearts can be too hard, unwilling to extend God’s love to others too. The story of Jonah speaks to us about our own closed minds and hardened attitudes. It shatters any illusions we may have about being a tolerant people. The thorns of hatred and prejudice are deeply ingrained in our being and can only be rooted out by a change of heart. So too the Grinch, in order to steal Christmas, he dresses as Santa with Max as the reindeer, and takes every Christmas related things: stockings, decorations, Christmas trees, presents, even the roast beast from Whoville on Christmas eve thinking he can control and eliminate Christmas as he wishes. But on Christmas day, “What he saw was a shocking surprise! Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small, was singing! Without any presents at all! He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming. IT CAME! … And the Grinch stood puzzling: “How could it be so?” “It came without ribbons! It came without tags!” “It came without packages, boxes or bags!” Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.” “Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more!” And…the Grinch was so touched by the love and joy, he bought back all he took and joined the feast, singing and celebrating, and HE HIMSELF carving the roast beast. Well…in Whoville they say, “That the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!” (Dr. Seuss, “How the Grinch stole Christmas” 

           God’s ways are not our ways nor His thoughts our thoughts. God loves sinners and saints alike. God can expand our small, fragile hearts to love like Him. He has given us his grace through the death and resurrection of his son, Jesus. Because of Christ working in us, our capacity to love others, even our enemies increases. “I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart” (Ezekiel 36:26).