I remember as a Protestant laughing at the prophet Jonah, because he seems to make himself ridiculous in his pouting conversation with God. Essentially, his emotions are all over the place, which I can relate to. Jonah is unhappy when God spares the people of Nineveh, because that means his prophecy of their destruction doesn’t come to pass, and it makes him look bad. Then he is “exceedingly glad” when God makes a gourd grow up to give him a little shade. When the gourd dies he is very displeased again. And God chastises him for having more pity on a gourd than on a whole city full of humans.
In the Orthodox Church we read the entire book of Jonah in church every Holy Saturday, along with a dozen other Old Testament passages. No one ever chuckles when we get to this part of the story; Jonah has a lot to teach us about our salvation, and we revere him for the fact that God made his life a picture of Christ’s death and Resurrection.
For the Prologue of Ohrid St. Nikolai has written a Hymn of Praise to God for how He worked in and through Jonah’s life, and for His forgiveness. I imagine that much of the poetry got lost in the translation from the Serbian language, but I appreciate the attitude toward the Holy Prophet Jonah, whom we commemorate on this day.
THE HOLY PROPHET JONAH
Nineveh! Nineveh resounds with sin,
And God sends Jonah to heal Nineveh.
Jonah does not want to, and flees from God!
Oh, where will you go, Jonah, to hide from the Most High?
Jonah sleeps; he sleeps and the tempest rises.
God moves slowly, but He will find you in time.
Hurled into the waves, swallowed by the whale,
“From whom did I flee?” Jonah asks himself.
“I fled from Him, from Whom one cannot hide!”
God chastises Jonah and yet delivers him,
And, by His providence, glorifies him forever.
Jonah, you do not want to speak to the Ninevites,
But through your punishment you will prophesy the immortal Christ.
You do not want to by words? Then you must, by deeds,
Prophesy Christ and the death and resurrection of the body!
Your deeds, Jonah, will not fade away,
And Christ the Lord will speak of you to men,
That, through you, the mercy of the Living God might be revealed,
By which you will be saved, as well as Nineveh.
Through you, the power of repentance shall be revealed–
The power of repentance and God’s forgiveness.
You pitied the gourd, and God pitied men.
Help us to repent, O God, and save us from condemnation.