I’ve always loved the Prophet Jonah. When I was a child, he had the best coloring book pages. When I got older, I loved reading Father Mapple’s sermon in Moby Dick talking about how an “oily calmness floats out from the east, and the sea is still,” the moment Jonah is thrown into the sea. The book deals with sin, all kinds of it. Disobedience, racism, hatred, stubbornness, pride, you name it and it’s in there. In fact, you don’t even have to look past Jonah himself to find it.
Which is why I find chapter 2 of the book (Jonah’s prayer from the belly of the fish) the most amazing and shocking thing about the whole account. You read that right, Jonah’s prayer is more amazing than the storm, the fact that Jonah was swallowed up, the effectiveness of his one-sentence sermon, the repentance of the King of Nineveh, more than any of it.
It is simply beyond remarkable that Jonah, who had sinned so blatantly and horribly, would have the (forgive my Yiddish) chutzpah to talk to God so boldly from the belly of the fish! Jonah realizes he is deserving of his dire situation, “You hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the sea… The engulfing waters surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head.” However, he had the confidence to say this, “I have been banished from your sight, yet I will look again toward your holy temple.” When everything seemed so hopelessly lost, Jonah trusted in the God who “listened to my cry” even from “the depths of the grave.”
There is only one reason Jonah could have such boldness in the midst of his sin. He reveals it at the end of his prayer, “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.” Jonah wasn’t bold because he thought HE was so good, he was so bold because he knew God is so gracious. This gets at the very heart of Lent.
Jonah wasn’t bold because he thought HE was so good, he was so bold because he knew God is so gracious. This gets at the very heart of Lent.
Lent is a time of remorse, repentance, and reflection. It’s a time to take a hard look in the mirror, and realize that for as much as we like to point out sin in the world around us, we don’t have to look past ourselves to find it. Lent is a gut check that reminds us that we should also be in the gut of the fish.
However it is also a reminder, that like Jonah, we can call out boldly to our God. We can “sink down to the roots of the mountains” but there is no depth too expansive for the reach of God’s arms of grace. We are reminded that we can call out for help even “from the depth of the grave,” because Jesus died for us and left his grave empty as a promise to us. From Jonah, we reminded that for sinners like us, “Salvation comes from the Lord.” So be repentant but have some chutzpah too.