Jonah is the one person in the bible that can make you both laugh and cry; he is tragic and successful at the same time. You all know the story. God calls Jonah to preach to Nineveh and Jonah takes a boat going directly in the opposite direction– essentially saying no to God’s call. A large fish shallows Jonah and he spends three days and nights in the belly of the fish from which he prays to God. The fish then spews, vomits Jonah on the shore. (It doesn’t take much imagination to see how horrible and disgusting his experience with the fish was; this is the bible’s way of saying where we end up when we run from God’s call.)
Again God calls to Jonah to go to Nineveh and this time he goes. Although Jonah does not want to go, he just doesn’t want to end up in the fish again and does not give a fig about the Ninevites; he has a really bad motive. What happens next is a remarkable, huge success! Nineveh is an enormously large city; it took Jonah three days to go through it. Imagine how large this city was. And what happened? They all repented! From the king down to even the animals, which means everyone!
Now how does Jonah respond to this success? He is angry! So angry he would rather die than live. What a bad attitude! What a bad motive for his preaching! A really bad attitude and a really bad motive and Jonah is still remarkably successful. What is this saying to us?
Well, don’t you and I sometimes have a bad attitude, and if we are to be honest, we don’t do everything, even for God, with the best motives. I once heard a priest who told me he was talking and confessing to a priest friend that he realized he doesn’t always have the best motive when he is doing his ministry and it greatly bothered him to see this within himself. His priest friend replied, “Oh, I don’t worry about that,” to which he replied, “Really?” His friend then said; “Yeah, I just leave my motives up to God, He will work them out in me in time, and I just keep going about what I am called to do.”
What wise advice! Our motives are never completely pure, and God in time will purify them. We are called to just keep doing what we are called to do even with our bad motives. In fact if we waited till our motives were completely pure before we acted we would never do anything! At the same time don’t we also sometimes have, like Jonah, a ‘bad attitude’? For example, we wake up on Sunday morning angry at our local church for some reason or even the whole ‘church’ thing in general and we just want to stay home. No. Disciples’ keep doing what they are called to do regardless of their bad attitude. In this case they go to church “with” their bad-attitude! Discipleship is all about “doing what we are called to do” and acting on the word of God to us in our lives.
My son lives in L.A. and does some stand-up comedy. Recently he told me he sometimes gets stage-fright just before a show. I asked him how he deals with it. He said he once talked to a veteran comedian about stage-fright and his response was, “make your feet walk.” Great words for discipleship as well. “Make your feet walk!” Do what you are called to do and you will be successful, just like Jonah.
Jesus says the same thing in utter clarity. “While he was speaking, a woman from the crowd called out and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.” Jesus replied, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” (Lk. 11:27-28) Even better than bearing Jesus in one’s womb and nursing Jesus at the breast how wonderful is that it is for the one who hears the word of God and does it.