Thursday, October 10, 2013

Jonah, the Type

Reflection for Tuesday Week 27 of Ordinary Time
Given at St. Vincent de Paul Parish
October 8, 2013

Traditionally, the reluctant prophet Jonah, read in the light of the gospel, is a type of Christ. Indeed, a type of Savior. We are most familiar with this typology in the image of Jonah spending three days and three nights in the belly of the whale. Even Christ made reference to this type and fulfillment in Matthew’s gospel saying: “no sign shall be given to [this generation] except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three night in the heart of the earth” (Matt 12:39-40). Yet, this shadow of our Savior in Jonah does not stop there.

Consider yesterday’s reading. Jonah boards a ship going to Tarshish in hope that he might escape the presence of the Lord. Once on the ship, the Lord threatens to destroy the ship by stirring up a great tempest. While the crew franticly tried to save the ship, “Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down, and was fast asleep” (Jon 1:5). Later, the ship captain comes to arouse Jonah saying, “Arise, call upon your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we do not perish” (Jon 1:6). Does this not remind us of another event in the life of Christ? An event in which Jesus boards a ship and after being caught in a large storm, His disciples come and awaken Him sleeping under the stern saying, “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” (Mk 4:38).

Or consider what occurs next for Jonah. The sailors cast lots to see who is at fault. The lot falling upon Jonah, the crew interrogates Jonah, questioning his origin and identity. “I am a Hebrew,” he replies. Yet this made the men all the more afraid since they knew that he had fled the presence of the Lord (Cf. Jon 1:7-10). Frustrated and at their end, the crew took Jonah and cast him off, hoping that by ridding themselves of him the storm might quiet down. They cry out, “We beseech thee, O Lord, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood; for thou, O Lord, hast done as it pleased thee” (Jon 1:14-15). Does this not remind us of the passion of our Lord, the soldiers casting lots for His garments; Pontius Pilate questioning Jesus: “Are you the king of the Jews?” “You have said so” (Lk 23:3); and for fear of a riot Pilot sent Him off to be crucified, washing his hands and saying, “I am innocent of this righteous man’s blood; see to it yourselves” (Matt 27:24).

And so both Jesus and Jonah spent those three long nights and days in the darkness, descending into the depths of the underworld. Yet for what? We know why Jesus the Savior did, but why Jonah the type?

St. Jerome gives us an insight in his commentary on the book of Jonah. He says:

“Jonah [is] a type of Savior, who[,] prefiguring the resurrection of the Lord by spending "three days and three nights in the belly of a whale," was able to attain the first ardor so that we might deserve the arrival of the Holy Spirit to us. If indeed Jonah is to be translated as 'dove', and if the dove can be seen as the Holy Spirit, then we can also interpret the Dove as signifying the dove's entrance into us.”
Indeed, just as Jesus Christ our Redeemer suffered death and was buried so that, rising again on the third day, He might give to us the advocate, the His Spirit to be with us until the end of time. Jonah completing the type rises from the belly of the whale and receiving the Word of God for the second time, visits the people of Nineveh calling them to repentance.

The book of Jonah for us Christians is the story of Christ presented in type or as a shadow. It is the story of the passion, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in doing so gave us eternal life. It is the story of the arrival of God’s Word, the logos, which existed before all ages, coming into our lives, calling us to repentance, and dwelling in our hearts through the Spirit. Today this is fulfilled in our lives through the reception of the Word Incarnate in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar, the Eucharist.