Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Reflections for the 30th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – Nothing Can Separate Us

What can separate us from the love of Jesus Christ? Nothing. Not “anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword.” Through all of these, Jesus remains at our side, wrapping us in His love. Not “death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature...” Jesus does not allow any of these to come between Him and us. He stays close to us, closer to us then we are to ourselves, through all our trials and tribulations.

We know from our observations and experiences, however, that some people seem to be far away from divine love. What, then, separates them from the love of Christ? They separate themselves. Jesus doesn't withhold his love from anyone, but sometimes people choose to turn them backs on that love. They reject God. They want nothing to do with Him. His love still surrounds them, but they refuse to acknowledge it. If they persist in this renunciation of God's love to the very end of their lives, they will find themselves in hell, where God's love still surrounds them, but they experience it only as fiery torture. 

Indeed, nothing can separate us from God's love except our own free choice to reject that love, and even then that love remains although our experience of it changes. Let us open our hearts to God's love and cling to Him no matter what happens in our lives. He will never stop loving us.

Friday – Israel, God's Firstborn

Israel has been specially blessed by God for centuries. Chosen by Him as His special people, the Israelites became God's family. He revealed Himself to them and established covenants with them, those sacred bonds of kinship created by oaths. In doing so, He pledged Himself to be their God, their Father, and they in turn, swore to be God's people and to obey His laws. 

God guided Israel through centuries, blessing them when they kept the covenants and punishing them when they sinned in order to teach them how to do better next time. As many times as the people sinned, God never abandoned them. In fact, He promised them a Savior Who would one day make a new covenant that would take God's family to a whole new level and even incorporate the Gentiles.

The Israelites, then, filled the role of God's firstborn. They received God's revelation, His laws, His covenants, and His promises so that one day, they could teach their younger siblings, the other nations of the world, all about the one true God. They were to help prepare the world to be part of God's universal family, which Jesus Christ, an Israelite Himself in His human lineage, established. 

Israel is indeed our older brother in faith. Israel's family history is our family history, too. This is why we need to study the Old Testament. It is the heritage of the family of God.

Saturday – True Honor

In today's Gospel, Jesus relates a challenging parable that strikes at the heart of our notions of pride and honor. He tells of a wedding banquet and a guest who seated himself at a place of honor at the table. This guest thought he deserved such recognition, but he received a nasty, embarrassing shock when another, more-honorable guest arrived and their host asked his presumptuous guest to take another seat. Since all the seats were already full, the now humiliated guest shuffled down to the lowest place, probably followed by the smirks and snickers of everyone else at the table. His pride had led to his downfall and humiliation.

Jesus then goes on to explain a better approach. “When you are invited,” He instructs, “go and take the lowest place...” Our natural pride and dignity might rebel at this. We think we are better than some people and deserve more attention and distinction. But, Jesus continues, if we humble ourselves in this way, “when the host comes to you he may say, 'My friend, move up to a higher position.'” Then we may have the satisfaction of following our host to a better place while the other guests nod and smile, agreeing with the host's decision. 

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,” Jesus concludes, “but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Reflections for the 30th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – Children of God

Our first parents, Adam and Eve, shared intimately in the divine life of God. They walked with Him in the garden in the coolness of the evening, speaking with Him just as loving children communicate with their loving Father. Then tragedy struck. Adam and Eve sinned, and in disobeying God, they lost their share in the divine life, that sanctifying grace that filled them with their Father's presence. They lost it for themselves and for all of their descendants.

But God had a plan. He wanted His children back. He wanted a universal family to share His life. Over the centuries, He prepared a people for Himself through a series of covenants (sacred family bonds created by swearing an oath). With each covenant, He drew more and more people into His family, but they weren't ready for full sonship yet. 

Then the time arrived. The Father sent His Son, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity, to suffer and die for His people. Jesus' death and Resurrection re-opened the flow of sanctifying grace. Because of Jesus, we have received the Spirit of God, which allows us to cry out “Abba, Father!” Once again, we have access to the divine life of God. Once again, we can share in that very life. We can be sons and daughters of God. We can call Him “Abba!” or “Daddy!” We can have the intimacy that our first parents lost and that God has longed to restore for many centuries. We are now heirs with Jesus, suffering with Him but also entering into glory with Him, and one day, we can go home to Heaven to be with our Lord forever and ever.

Tuesday – Gaps in the Goodness

Even creation awaits salvation from God. St. Paul tells us this in today's first reading. “Creation,” he says, “was made subject to futility.” It has been enslaved to corruption and groans as it awaits delivery from that defilement. 

How did this happen? When our first parents sinned, their disobedience and lack of self-giving love affected the whole world. Human sin opened up gaps in the goodness of creation, clearing the way for tempests and earthquakes, floods and fires, extreme heat and frigid cold. Nature grew unfriendly to humankind, and the world became a much harsher place in which to live.

We still live in that fallen world, that world affected by sin and prone to disasters and tragedy. But because of Jesus Christ, we now live in hope. One day our Lord and Savior will return, and He will usher in a new Heaven and a new earth. He will refresh creation and fill in all the gaps in the goodness. God's children will share in Jesus' resurrected glory, and the rest of creation will join in rejoicing at its re-creation. 

So we pray for that day when God will wipe all the tears from our eyes and heal our broken world. Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!

Wednesday – The Household of God

We Catholics are full members of the household of God, which, as St. Paul explains, is “built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the capstone.” This household, the Catholic Church, has received the fullness of the Christian faith. We have everything that Jesus has given His people for our salvation: Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, the Magisterium (the Church's teaching office), the Pope (the vicar of Christ), all seven sacraments, the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, the saints, and so much more. 

Further, this household of God isn't restricted to this world. Those of us still living on earth form the Church Militant as we fight to guard and extend our faith. But we aren't alone. The souls currently being purified by the fire of God's love in Purgatory make up the Church Suffering. We pray for them, and they pray for us in return. Finally, those who enjoy the Beatific Vision in Heaven are part of the Church Triumphant. They, too, pray for us, lifting us up with great love before God, Whom they see face to face.

All of us are held together in Christ, and we grow together in love, forming a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit as He works in this world, purifies souls in Purgatory, and fills the saints in Heaven with great delight. As Scripture says, we are God's beloved children, members of His family, and heirs with Jesus Christ to His promise of eternal life.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Reflections for the 29th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – Setting the Earth on Fire

“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” Jesus' heart is on fire with love for us, and He longs for our hearts to be on fire with love for Him. He wants His Holy Spirit to sweep through the entire world, setting it ablaze with faith in God, with obedience to God's law, with hope for eternity, and with love for one other. 

Jesus knows that this fire will meet with opposition. He realizes that people will resist His love and His plans for their lives. Division will arise. Even families will split as some members choose Jesus and others reject Him. 

Jesus met that opposition head on. He even longed for the “baptism with which I must be baptized”: death on the Cross. If we ask Him, He will fill us with the fire of courage and strength to face persecution and hostility with love and endurance. 

Lord Jesus, set me on fire for You. Fill me with Your burning love. Let Your light shine through me that others, too, may be enkindled by Your Spirit. Amen.

Friday – Fallen Human Nature

In today's first reading, St. Paul expresses a reality that we can easily relate to: “For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.” We are weak, fallen human beings. Even when we want to do good, we get distracted and tempted and end up choosing to sin. We take the easy way out, the path of least resistance. We do what feels good to us without considering the moral law and its consequences. Then, when we run headlong into those consequences, we whine and complain and pout.

Our weakness and sinfulness make us miserable. They hold us captive, pulling us further into sin and further away from God. We can't seem to help ourselves. The passions of our fallen human nature seem to be too strong for our reason.

What can we do then? How can we ever get over ourselves and end our sinful habits? St. Paul tells us. We must turn to our Deliverer, Jesus Christ. He died to save us from our sins, and He stands ready to give us all the grace we need to say no to sin and yes to Him. He waits for us to ask for His help. He holds out His arms, waiting to receive our repentance so we can receive His forgiveness. We must trust Him to help us overcome our weakness and our sinfulness and to immerse us in His divine life where His love will wash us clean and raise our fallen human nature to holiness and peace. 

Saturday – Chance after Chance

We're blessed. We have a patient God Who gives us chance after chance after chance to choose Him and love Him. 

Listen again to Jesus' parable in today's Gospel. A landowner was getting frustrated with a fig tree that refused to bear fruit. He had already given the plant three years, and he was ready to cut it down. “Why should it exhaust the soil?” he asked his gardener. It's useless. 

The gardener, however, wasn't prepared to give up yet. “Sir,” he said to his boss, “leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future.” The gardener saw potential in the little tree. Perhaps it just needed some extra help, a little cultivation, some nourishment. It still had a chance to bloom and bear fruit. 

Jesus is like that gardener. He doesn't want to give up on any of us. He doesn't want to lose a single person...ever. He is willing to take the time and effort to help us bear fruit. He cultivates us and nourishes us, giving us everything we need to flourish. 

Like the little fig tree, however, we can be awfully stubborn. We refuse to accept the gifts our Lord provides, and we refuse to give of ourselves in return.

Yes, God gives us chance after chance and all the help we need to bear the fruit of faith, hope, and love. But we must open our hearts and minds and take a chance on God that we may one day flourish in the garden of Heaven.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Reflections for the 29th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – Empowered by Faith

In today's first reading, St. Paul reminds us of Abraham's great faith. God told Abraham to leave his homeland, all things familiar, everything he couldn't carry with him, even members of his family, and set out on a journey to an unknown land that God promised to give him. Abraham did.

God told Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. Abraham didn't even have a single heir, and he was already elderly. But Abraham believed, and soon he became the father of little Isaac.

God told Abraham to take his only son, Isaac, up on Mount Moriah and sacrifice him. Abraham's heart must have been breaking, but he set out, trusting that God would either provide an alternate sacrifice or give him his son back somehow, even if it meant raising him from the dead. 

God spoke, and Abraham believed. He was willing to let go of his preconceived notions about the ways of the world. He was willing to put aside his fear. He was even willing to place his dear son in God's hands. Abraham's faith made him strong enough to do what seemed humanly impossible. It empowered him to let go of his own will, allow God to guide him, and open his heart to the wonderful ways in which God fulfilled His promises.

Tuesday – Here I Am, Lord

Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will. 

I give myself to You, Lord, all of me, my hopes, my dreams, my goals, my enjoyments, my successes, my failures, my weaknesses. All that I have and all that I am I give to You.

Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.

I entrust to You my family and my friends, those I care for and those who care for me.

Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.

With a repentant heart, I place my sins before You and ask for Your forgiveness.

Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.

Guide me, Lord. Show me where You want me to go. Give me a heart to obey Your word and follow You wherever You lead.

Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.

Place Your words in my mouth that I may speak them to those who need to hear. May I be transparent that Your light may shine through me. 

Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.

Not my will but Yours be done, my Lord and my Savior.

Amen.

Wednesday – Stay Awake!

Are you spiritually awake? Or have the cares of this world lulled you into a stupor? 

In today's Gospel, Jesus warns us that we do not know the hour when He will return. Therefore, like an attentive servant, we must keep watch for our Master to come back to us. 

What does it mean to be spiritually awake and attentive? People who are spiritually awake and attentive 

1. Pray as much as possible

2. Are conscious of God's presence throughout the day in every area of their lives

3. Read, study, and meditate on Sacred Scripture

4. Receive the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Confession, frequently

5. Know and respect God's moral law, make good moral choices, and repent and confess when they fail to do so

6. Are eager to grow in their faith and in their relationship with God

7. Long for ever greater intimacy with their Father Who loves them beyond telling, with their Savior Who died for them, and with the Holy Spirit Who enkindles the fire of love in their hearts

Stay awake then. Watch for the Lord. Be attentive to His every whisper, His every nudge, His every loving touch.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Reflections for the 28th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – Messy Human Beings

Let's face it; we human beings are really messy. We sin frequently. We wallow in the mud of pride and selfishness. We fail to act and speak with love. We argue and fuss and worry and fret. We put our trust in the things of this world and look to them for satisfaction. We refuse to trust and obey the God Who loves us beyond all telling.

For all our messiness, however, God never gives up on us. As St. Paul reminds us in today's first reading, God sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us. By His Blood, we have access to forgiveness of our sins. We are freed, redeemed, from slavery to sin and death. We are justified by grace through our living faith that says yes to God and His plan for our lives. 

God listens to us when we cry out from the depths of our humanity. He hears us, and He responds with forgiveness and love. In return, we must pray with the Psalmist, even in this midst of our messiness, “I trust in the Lord; my soul trusts in His word. My soul waits for the Lord more than sentinels wait for the dawn.”

Friday – God Knows

God knows us better than we know ourselves. Jesus assures us in today's Gospel that God notices every sparrow that falls from the sky, and we are worth much more than a sparrow. God has even counted every single hair on our heads. 

Think about that for a moment. Think about how well God knows you. Think about how much He values you. Think about how much He loves you. He knows all your sins, all your faults, all your mistakes, all your weakness, and He loves you beyond measure anyway.

“Do not be afraid,” Jesus says. We are safe in the loving arms of our omniscient God.

Saturday – The Sin Against the Holy Spirit

In today's Gospel, Jesus utters some very mysterious words: “Everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.”

These words have terrified countless scrupulous people over the centuries because they seem to say that there is some kind of sin that God simply will not forgive. What is this blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? Can we commit this sin without realizing it? Will we get to the end of our lives and be shut out of Heaven because we have at some point offended God by an unforgivable sin?

Saints and scholars are quick to reassure us that this sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit isn't so mysterious at all, and we cannot commit it without being aware of it. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is just this: rejecting the forgiveness of God until the very end. Those who commit this sin are not forgiven because they don't want to be forgiven. They deliberately turn their backs on God's outstretched hand. They refuse God's love. They will not repent of their sin. They choose against God even to the very end of their lives. God wants to forgive them, but they answer with a firm “No!” And God, respecting their free will, lets them have their way.

We can be certain, then, that we cannot commit the unforgivable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit without knowing that we are doing it. If we remain open to God's forgiving love, we can trust Him to provide whatever we need to get us home to Him.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Reflections for the 28th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – A Slave of Christ Jesus

St. Paul begins his Letter to the Romans with a shocking statement. He calls himself “a slave of Christ Jesus.” 

Some translations of Scripture try to tone down this claim a bit by translating the Greek word doulos as “servant,” but this is inaccurate. The Greek meaning is clear: doulos means “slave,” someone who is the property of another, someone who gives up his will to another.

This likely raises the hackles of most modern people. We usually view slavery as appalling and horrific and rightly so when slavery involves one person owning another. Such a practice stands in total opposition to human dignity. 

What, then, are we to make of Paul's assertion? Why would he use a disturbing word like “slave” to describe his relationship with Jesus? 

First, Paul wants to make sure that his readers are aware of Jesus' unique status. Jesus Christ is God. He is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Creator of the universe, the omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent Divine Being. As such, all things and all people belong to Him by right. He has full authority over the entire cosmos and every being in it. Paul humbly acknowledges this reality. 

Second, Paul recognizes his place in the grand scheme of things. He knows that compared to God, he is smaller than an atom, next to nothing. God, after all, didn't have to create Paul or any of the rest of us. He doesn't really need us, but He wants us. Therefore, He created us out of His great love. We are nothing without Him.

Third, Paul uses the term “slave” to express his total surrender to God. He has chosen to give himself completely to Jesus Christ, all that he has, all that he is, everything. He has turned over his body, his mind, his will, his heart, and his soul to God through Jesus. He no longer belongs to himself. 

Fourth, because of this humble submission, Paul embraces obedience. He imitates Jesus Himself in saying, “Not my will but Yours be done.” He is ready and eager to follow Jesus in everything, trusting his Lord and Master to guide him on the right path that will get him home to Heaven. Everything Jesus commands, he will do out of love, understanding that Jesus' every order is for his own good.

Fifth, Paul knows that as a slave of Jesus Christ he will be loved, cherished, protected, and cared for by the best Master in the universe. Jesus longs for us to give Him our whole selves, and He rewards that kind of gift with greater blessings than we can ever imagine. 

To be a slave of Christ Jesus, then, is the best role we could ever embrace, the best position we could ever occupy, the most fulfilling rank we could ever hold. St. Paul knows that, and he offers us a great gift by telling us.

Tuesday – Seeing God in Creation

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims His handiwork.” Thus declares today's Psalm. Do you realize that you can know God just from looking at His creation? It's true! We human beings are endowed with reason, and by using that reason to observe the created world around us, we can know for 100% sure that there is a God. 

St. Thomas Aquinas describes five ways in which we can definitely know that God exists just through our own human reasoning.

1. Proof from motion – Everything in the world is in motion. Everything changes. Further, all motion and all change happen because of something else. Something happens to make something else move or change. But who started the motion to begin with? Who made the first change? The only One Who could do that must be Someone Who didn't have to be put into motion in the first place, Someone Who is unchangeable. Only God, the first Mover, could have started everything in motion.

2. Proof from causality – This argument is similar to the first. Everything in the universe is caused by something else. But Who caused the first effect? Who started the whole chain? Someone must have, and that Someone is God.

3. Proof from contingency – Everything and everybody in the universe is contingent. We depend upon others for our existence. We are not necessary. But if we are not necessary, if we are dependent, then Who is necessary? Who is independent? God, of course.

4. Proof from grades of perfection – We all recognize that some people and some things are better than others. There are always gradations in our world, and we have standards by which we determine those gradations of goodness and beauty and truth. Therefore, there must be an ultimate standard, Someone Who stands right at the top, to Whom we compare everything else. That's God.

5. Proof from finality or design – We are all heading some place. Everything and everybody has an end. This world has purpose and order. It moves in a particular direction in a particular way. That direction is God, the beginning and the end of all things, and that way is His way.

Yes, we can know that God exists simply by looking at His creation and discerning with our reason, but we are extremely blessed because God, in His great love, chose to reveal Himself and His plan of salvation in an even greater way through Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. In this awesome deposit of Divine Revelation, He tells us things we could never know otherwise, and He confirms what we can know on our own. What a wonderful God we have!

For a more detailed explanation of these five proofs, please read about them in St. Thomas' own words in the Summa Theologica.

Wednesday – Rest in God

St. Augustine once wrote in a prayer to God, “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.”

Today's Psalm expresses that very idea: “Only in God is my soul at rest; from Him comes my salvation.”

We will never be satisfied with the things of this world. Money, honor, fame, and power will always fall short of our deepest longing. God has placed a desire within the heart of every human being, a desire for Him, a craving to know Him, an eagerness to love Him, a yearning to be close to Him. We will never find true rest, true peace, anywhere else. Our salvation comes only from Him. He is our only refuge, our only stronghold, our only real safety. Only in Him will we find everything we've ever wanted.

May my heart be at rest in You, my Lord and my God.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Reflections for the 27th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – Persevere in Prayer

In today's Gospel, Jesus tells a parable to illustrate the need to persevere in prayer. Suppose, He says to His disciples, you have an unexpected guest show up at your house. You don't have anything on hand to show the proper hospitality, so you scoot over to a friend's house and ask for three loaves of bread. Your friend and his family are already nicely tucked into bed, and he doesn't really want to get up to help you. You're pretty desperate, though, so you persist in your pleas. Your friend, who knows you well, soon sees that he's not going to get rid of you unless he gives you something. You get your loaves and head home to feed your guest.

God is our friend. Think about that for a moment. We can rely on God to care for us and love us. We can ask Him for what we need and be sure that He will give it to us. He may not do so on our time, but His provident hand will hold out the very best answers to all our prayers if we just wait and persevere. 

Jesus continues with three reassuring statements. 1. Ask and you will receive. God will give us exactly what we need. That may not be exactly what we ask for, but we will always receive something when we pray, and often, that something is Someone as we increase our intimacy with the Blessed Trinity. 2. Seek and you will find. When we seek God, we will find Him. He is always right there, waiting for us to open our minds to His Word and our hearts to His love. 3. Knock and the door will be opened to you. God is always ready to open His door to us. If we knock with true repentance, confess our sins, and accept the penance God requires, the gates of Heaven swing out to admit us, and God will be awaiting us with arms spread wide. 

Friday – Just Judgment

We live in a broken world. Horrible things happen: natural disasters, accidents, crimes, disease. We are vulnerable, prone to all kinds of weakness. We sin frequently, contributing to the chaos around us. 

But we still have hope, and today's Psalm tells us why. The Psalmist begins by giving thanks to God with his whole heart and proclaiming the wonderful deeds God has done for His people. He cries out in praise and exaltation, recognizing God's power and love. 

Then the Psalmist continues by explaining how God judges the world and set things right. He has rebuked sinful nations and wicked people in the past. Those who commit evil will experience the consequences of their deeds, the Psalmist assures. They will fall into the pit they have made by their own actions and get caught in the snares of their own sins. 

How do we know this? How can we be sure, especially when the wicked seem to be multiplying and thriving? The Psalmist tells us: “The Lord sits enthroned forever.” He is in control. He is sovereign. He judges the whole world with justice. He governs rightly, making sure that everything comes out just as it is supposed to in the end. 

We may live in a broken world, but we have a God Who makes us whole. We may experience horrible things, but we have a God Who makes them turn out for our good if only we trust Him. We may be vulnerable, but we have a God Who protects us and knows exactly what we need, exactly when we need it. We may sin, but we have a God Who is always ready to pour out His forgiveness upon repentant hearts.

This is why we have hope. 

Saturday – Hear and Observe

Lord Jesus, You say to us, “...blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” May we open our minds and hearts to hear Your word in the Sacred Scriptures, in the liturgy, and in the teaching of Your Church. Give us the graces we need to understand and accept what we hear. 

Lord Jesus, give us the drive to dig deeply into the wonderful mysteries of our faith. May we read and study Scripture diligently. May we attend Mass faithfully and enter into the liturgy with our whole being. May we make an effort to learn exactly what the Church teaches through the Catechism, the writings of the Fathers, saints, and theologians, and the teachings of the popes and bishops. May we always pray as we read and study so that our efforts become an intimate conversation with You.

Lord Jesus, give us the commitment to put Your words into action. May we love as You loved and serve as You served. May we always be obedient to Your moral law, realizing that You designed it according to our human nature that we may be free to love You and other people and to embrace the divine life You want to share with us. May we become small and transparent that You may loom large and shine out from us in every situation we find ourselves in and to every person we meet.

Lord Jesus, our beloved Savior, may we always hear the word of God and observe it in faith, hope, and love. Amen.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Reflections for the 27th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – The Reluctant Prophet

Jonah is probably one of the most humorous characters in the whole Bible. He's especially funny because he holds up a mirror for us and makes us laugh at ourselves. Many of us tend to be a lot like Jonah.

Let's explore the adventures of this reluctant prophet. When we first meet Jonah, he is receiving a word of prophecy from God. Go to Nineveh, God says, and preach against the city. The message is clear, but what does Jonah do? He runs in the opposite direction as fast as he can. 

At Joppa, Jonah hops on board a ship bound for Tarshish. Does he really think he can get away from God? Deep down he probably knows he can't, but he's certainly going to try. He tucks himself down into the ship's hold and goes to sleep, determined to ignore the world and especially God.

That doesn't last long. Somehow Jonah manages to sleep through the violent storm that tosses the ship to and fro in the thrashing waves. Finally, the terrified captain shakes the fleeing prophet awake and urges him to pray to his God to save them. 

The sailors are a practical bunch. They realize that someone is responsible for this nasty storm, which is unlike anything they've ever seen before. They cast lots to discover the culprit, and of course, the lot falls to Jonah. Surprisingly, the sailors don't throw him overboard immediately. Instead, they ask him who he is and what in the world he has done to cause this. Jonah freely admits that he is fleeing from God and at fault for their current predicament. 

Once again, the sailors leave him alone, trying hard to row to land. Finally, though, they see that nothing more can be done. They pray to God to forgive them, and they toss a willing Jonah into the sea. 

As Jonah sinks, the storm tapers off. Then, suddenly, gulp! A large fish swallows Jonah. As the reluctant prophet cools his heals in the belly of the fish, he finally figures out that he has a major problem. It must be difficult to eat crow, but Jonah does it. He prays. God listens and says a couple of well-chosen words to the fish, who immediately spits Jonah onto dry land. 

The reluctant prophet must have given a great sigh of relief. But his journey is not finished. It's time to go to Nineveh. 

Tuesday – Anxious and Worried

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.” Jesus could very well be saying those words to most of us. In fact, if we are honest, we would quickly admit that we're probably more worthy of receiving those words than Martha ever was. 

We fret. We fume. We get distracted by our responsibilities. We allow ourselves to be caught up in “what ifs.” We drown under the weight of our burdens. We whine. We complain. We are anxious. We worry. 

And Jesus looks at us with great love and a little smile, shaking His head and repeating the words He said to another worrier two centuries ago: “...you are anxious and worried about many things.” Listen to Him as He continues his gentle rebuke: “There is need of only one thing.” That was the one thing that Mary, Martha's sister, chose. She sat beside Jesus, right at His feet, listening as He taught. She chose to focus her attention on Jesus above all else. She had found the one remedy for anxiety and worry. She had found Jesus. 

When will we find that one Remedy? When will we sit at His feet and listen to Him and focus our attention on Him and allow our cares and burdens to drift away in the gentle breeze of His love?

Wednesday – A Pouting Prophet

Jonah really should have learned his lesson by now. He has already run away from God, been caught in a fierce storm, and spent three days inside a fish. He has preached to Nineveh and witnessed a shocking conversion as the Ninevites, led by their king, begged forgiveness from God. By this time, he should know enough to realize that God is in charge and that His will is sovereign. 

Jonah, however, still doesn't get the picture. Apparently, he was all excited to see God pour out His wrath upon Nineveh. But that didn't happen. Instead, God accepted the Ninevites' repentance and had mercy on them. 

Now Jonah is miffed that things didn't go his way. He pouts, he whines, he snivels, and he begs God to just take his life. God, probably with a sigh, asks Jonah what in the world he has to be angry about. 

Jonah simply pouts some more and doesn't answer. So God decides to teach him another lesson. He provides a very nice gourd plant to give Jonah some shade. Jonah is quite pleased with the plant. But it doesn't last long. God allows a worm to attack the plant so that it dies. Then He sends a hot wind, which combined with the sun, heats up Jonah so much that once again he begs for death.

God looks down at his pouting prophet and asks him if he really has any reason to be angry about the plant. “I have reason to be angry,” Jonah responds (stamping his foot perhaps?), “angry enough to die.” 

God very patiently explains that since Jonah is so concerned about a plant he did not raise, he should now understand why God is so concerned about the great city of Nineveh and all its people and animals. After all, God created them, holds them in existence, and loves them. 

Does Jonah finally get the message? We'll never know. The book cuts off right after God speaks. Perhaps the Holy Spirit deliberately leaves the question open so that we can ask ourselves if we have learned our lesson.