Understanding Basic Terms in This Month's
Look for these key words and terms as you
read the article. Definitions or explanations can be researched from the
article itself, or from the resource materials cited throughout the
Links for Learners.
Getting to Know the Story in the Book
Read the Book of Jonah before beginning
any discussion or research. It's a short four chapters of easy-to-read narrative.
Most editions of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) have historical
notes both in the beginning of the Bible and usually within each individual
book to help you with any passages that may not be immediately
You can access the Book
of Jonah (and other books of the Bible) online,
using the Revised Standard Version (RSV) and other
more recent translations. This will also allow you to reach a number of
biblical study Web sites.
From general Bible text notes, which usually
include a few maps, you can orient yourself to the geography of the
ancient Middle East. Find the Assyrian Empire; the city of Nineveh,
northeast of Jerusalem; and the Holy Land. Although you won't find Tarshish,
the author says it was probably somewhere in Spainat the opposite
end of the Mediterranean Sea from Nineveh. Looking at a map makes it
clear that Jonah was indeed a reluctant prophet. God called him to go
east to preach to Nineveh, and Jonah turned west and tried to run as far from
Nineveh as he could! Note also that he traveled by sea, the fastest mode of travel
in those times.
What Made Jonah Run?
The story starts with God speaking to Jonah.
God initiates the encounter, giving Jonah a directive: He is to go to
a city notorious for immoral behavior, and preach repentance and conversion
to God's ways.
Discuss Jonah's initial response to God's
message. Can you identify the attitude underlying his action? We see
first a reluctant man, a hesitant prophet. Jonah knows the reputation of
Nineveh. He has no doubts about what he will find there.
His reluctance quickly turns to flight.
He runs, and it takes a lot of effort to run as Jonah did. For him,
this sea voyage was like taking a jet plane to the opposite end of the
earth. Historically, for the desert dwellers of the Middle East, the
sea was an unfamiliar place. Indeed, the sea was considered to be chaos
itself. Jonah's turbulent journey, and his three days in the belly of
the fish, were a symbol of his own personal chaos, his extreme reluctanceindeed,
fearto follow what God asked of him.
In class or in discussion groups, talk
about why Jonah fled. Identify the feelings he must have had, the attitude
behind his behavior. What motivates anyone to flee everything he knows?
What Makes Us Run?
Perhaps we can find parallels in our own
lives. First, has God called us? Do we, like Jonah, have a mission to perform?
Discuss where and how God speaks to us today. If you're a group leader, direct
the discussion to Baptism and Confirmation as primary sources for God's
initial message. In these sacraments, God signs us as his own. What
response does he seek from us? What actions or behaviors arise from
being anointed to new birth in Baptism and then strengthened in Confirmation?
Lets talk about the attitudes we
exhibit in responding to God's call in these sacraments. Are we, like Jonah, reluctant
and hesitant? Are we even aware of our mission? Have we closed our hearts
entirely to the message? Are we so preoccupied with less important concerns
that we don't see how and where God calls us? There are many ways our flight
from God and responsibility can surface, including abuse of alcohol and
drugs or other excessive behavior.
Where else do we hear God speaking to us,
besides the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation? Talk about where a teen
may hear God call. Examples might include:
* A teacher's challenge to growth in classroom
work and studies
* A parent's plea to be more a part of
* A friend's need for trust and support
in time of crisis
* A person in need who could be served
through volunteer service
In truth, each of us is a reluctant prophet,
hesitant to follow where God calls. And we know it, don't we, when we struggle
with our own chaos, our own inner turmoil? We know chaos when we live the
darkness of knowing what we need to do and run from it.
What Gets Us Through the Chaos?
Re-read Jonah's psalm of thanksgiving in
Chapter Two. Note how Jonah, in his moment of darkness, turns back to
the Lord, "From the midst of the nether world I cried for help, and
you heard my voice." And then, "But you brought my life up from the
pit, O Lord, my God." You might find it helpful to write your own psalm
of thanksgiving. Try it on your own, and share it with your group, or
write a psalm as a group effort. Identify a moment of darkness and difficulty,
understand the feelings and attitudes you have in that moment and turn
it all over to God in prayer.
Only prayer brought Jonah through the three
days and back on the path to God. Do we turn to God when our spirit
is broken and we can't see our way out of the darkness? The Awaken
to Prayer site includes an extensive list of Web links to prayer-related
sites and will help you find a prayer method suitable to your own needs.
Scroll down through the lists until you find the link for "Art as a
Source of Meditation." Click on it and, from there, find the link
entitled "The Church, The Boat of Peter, in the storm." This
will take you to a meditation on Turner's "Fishermen at Sea,"
a painting from 1796. The meditation includes a reference to Jonah and
to the sea as chaos.
If you find the quiet of meditation a fruitful
way to pray, the centering prayer is explained on the Contemplative
Try, also, information on Thomas Merton,
a contemplative monk who has influenced many both before and after
his death. His biographical
data can be found online. If you have the time to go more
in depth, read Merton's own account of his life, The Seven Storey
Mountain. In it he recalls his flight from God until he ultimately
heard, and answered, God's call. Or try the site for Firewatch,
dedicated to Merton and to religious contemplation. Finally, the
cover story from the online January 1997 issue of St.
Anthony Messenger offers another perspective on Mertons
attitude toward prayer, and the influence of the Eastespecially
Buddhismon those attitudes.
If you need help in praying, if you can't
seem to find the words to pray, cyberspace offers many possibilities.
Try the daily "Minute Meditation" on the Web site of St.
Anthony Messenger Press. The Dominican
Sisters Retreat Ministry will accept your e-mail request for
prayers, which in turn will be offered at their monastery in your name.
Or, if you prefer, the site allows you to sign up for a daily
prayer to be sent to you by e-mail. When you can't find your
own words, or when television and computer games intrude on your spirit,
you may find it helpful to begin or end your day with an online prayer.
And when you know others are in need, you can forward a daily prayer
by e-mail to help them pray. So many of us receive (and perhaps send!)
frivolous e-mail messages to one another. Why not a word of support
by forwarding a prayer?
Finally, we can at times find ourselves
feeling that God doesn't answer our prayers. For help with this, you might
try accessing "Unanswered
Most Common Reasons Why" by Rev. Dale A. Robbins, a minister for
the Assembly of God Church.
Our Attitudes Need Constant Attention
Strengthened by prayer, Jonah turned his
life around and responded to God's call. He preached repentance to Nineveh,
and the citizens and leaders of the city turned back to God. You'd think
the story would end successfully there. But, like a good mystery novel,
there's yet another twist: Jonah catches another attitude! He now looks
for vengeance and retribution to be unleashed against the people of Nineveh;
God speaks mercy, but Jonah calls for punishment. Discuss where this attitude
comes from. Remember, too, that this story is set several hundred years
before the birth of Jesus. What was the prevalent attitude towards sinners?
Our God is a God of mercy. Despite repeated
efforts on the part of the early Jews, and efforts we Christians continue
to make, God brings mercy, not retribution. Jonah's complaint sounds
much like the pleas of the first son in the Gospel parable of
the Prodigal Son from the Christian Bible (the New Testament): I did what you
asked (he says to his father). My brother (or the people of Nineveh) disobeyed
you and flouted your authority. He/they deserve to be punished.
Why are you so forgiving?
Sounds familiar, doesn't it? We can almost
hear ourselves talking to God: I did my best. I did what you told me to
do. I live by your commandments and your directives. Why do all the
sinners get forgiven? Why do they get all the breaks while I seemingly
am punished for doing right?
Are there situations you have encountered
in your own life that brought out feelings of punishment and retribution
towards others, rather than of forgiveness? Discuss how each of us may
react similarly to Jonah. If we were to live as a sign of God's mercy,
what kind of behavior should we have exhibited in those situations?
God forgives without limits. Do we?
Background Information on the Book of
If you're interested in knowing more of
the historical context for the Book of Jonah, here are several references
to start you on your way. Solid research tools for Bible
study are available online along with several Bible dictionaries.
Keying in the word "prophet," for example, will give you a thorough
definition of the term, along with the root origins of the word. Through
this site you'll also find Bible concordances where you can search for
other references to prophets in the Bible. This site will also connect
you with the Goshen Christian search
engine for further research.
Try accessing some of these Internet sources for further reference.
Be aware, however, that some of these sites may charge for downloading
articles contained within the site's archives.
http://www.nytimes.com/ - The New
http://www.latimes.com/ - The Los
http://www.time.com/ - Time magazine
http://www.cnn.com/ - CNN
http://www.msnbc.com/ - MSNBC
- This site will take you to a number of online publications.
http://wire.ap.org/ - The Associated
- The Chicago Tribune
http://www.people.com - People magazine
The Washington Post
The History Channel
http://www.herald.com - The Miami
http://www.closeup.org - The Close
http://abcnews.go.com/ - ABC News
Channel One's online resource
The links contained within this resource guide are functional
at the time the page is posted. Over time, however, some of the links
may become ineffective.
These links are provided solely as a convenience to you
and not as an endorsement by St. Anthony Messenger Press/Franciscan
Communications of the contents on such third-party Web sites. St. Anthony
Messenger Press/Franciscan Communications is not responsible for the
content of linked third-party sites and does not make any representations
regarding the content or accuracy of materials on such third-party Web
sites. If you decide to access linked third-party Web sites, you do
so at your own risk.