Where will you walk?

In this Sunday’s readings, we will hear God’s second call to Jonah. The prophet Jonah then visits Nineveh where all repent and are open to receiving God’s mercy and love. Jonah is always popular with science students. The story imagery sparks their curiosity. 

Someone always asks, “Just how large was that big fish’s stomach?” or “Wow, how did Jonah avoid being digested by that stomach acid?” Believe it or not, all it takes to get them to try to imagine and put it all together on their own is a quietly spoken, “Amazing is it not?” 

Let us revisit God’s first call to Jonah. When asked to go to Nineveh (a city of people considered enemies of Israel), Jonah doesn’t just say no. He actually boarded a ship heading in the opposite direction! 

On the way to Tarshish, the sailors were petrified of the huge storm and cast Jonah into the sea which immediately calmed. The sailors then offered sacrifice to God. 

After three days in darkness and silence, Jonah sought forgiveness. Only after his prayer of thanksgiving to God did the fish deposit Jonah near Nineveh. 

Jonah could serve as poster boy for the message of the importance of thinking (and deciding) before walking. Jean de La Fontaine said, “A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.” On a deeper level, that is Jonah is it not? On a personal and perhaps even private level, that is each of us is it not?

I will share one such experience from my life. A little background information is needed. I have lived in a number of large urban areas. If one truly looks with one’s heart open, there is often great need present in one’s neighbors. 

However, one must carefully analyze that set point for loving one’s neighbor as oneself. Can one safely and actually help? If so, then comes the challenge of deciding how best to aid one’s brother or sister in Christ. 

One day I was driving home. It had been a very long day. It was pouring. I was drenched and cold. As I paused at a red light, I noticed an older woman pulling a cart of groceries. 

To that little voice that said, “Go help her,” I replied that today was a day for someone else as I was exhausted and going home. Through the mirror, I saw that no one else stopped. That little voice whispered, “Suppose that is God and you choose not to help?” 

I reversed direction only to find she was gone! I did not believe that there really had been time for someone to load both the woman and her groceries into another car. I drove in the area for a few minutes, but she was not there. The chill that ran down my spine had nothing to do with the damp and cold. 

A few years later, I was driving to a meeting, but was unfamiliar with the city and had gotten myself lost. I stopped at a fast food restaurant to ask directions. There was this rather disheveled young adult hanging outside the door asking for money. 

That day, I replied I’d make a deal with her. If she swapped me directions to my destination, then I’d buy her food. Her request was modest. Today, it still amazes me that inside I did not ask anyone else directions. 

Also, although I knew I was headed somewhere where there would be food, I suddenly wanted some French fries. The young adult was ready with the directions when I returned. Suddenly, I found myself asking her for one French fry. She smiled and gave me one. 

As I went to enter my car she called out, “Hey, you’re a minister aren’t you?” It was my turn to smile. I told her that I was just a regular person like herself. We parted saying that we each would pray for the other. Her directions were perfect.

The fact that our God gives each of us that second call is really only part of the message of the tale of Jonah. More important is that by the time we accept that precious second chance, each of us will have grown, through silence and prayer, to be open to the direction of the Holy Spirit. 

Long before Jonah is a prophet to Nineveh, he opens the sailors’ eyes and hearts to God. Evangelization is thus not only a job for Apostles, priests and prophets, but is a job for each and every one of us. 

Through our daily interactions with others, we can briefly open their hearts to see and receive God’s love. What each of them will do after that is beyond us. We just plant that initial seed for God. 

Today, where will you walk and whose heart will you help open to receive God’s love? 

Anchor columnist Helen Flavin is a Catholic scientist, educator and writer and a member of St. Bernadette’s Parish in Fall River. 

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