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Watch Out For Storms!

Our Lord Jesus teaches by word and by action. When He teaches by word, he sometimes teaches

by comparison, other times by contrast. Today’s episode,l which is from the gospel according to the

apostle and evangelist Matthew, may very well be an “action parable” in which Jesus is re-enacting but also updating the story of Jonah – and, if it is, it’s a teaching largely by contrast, though of course with some similarities.

Jonah was fleeing from his assignment, given by God, to go preach repentance to the Ninevites;

Jesus is fulfilling his assignment from God his Father, to go preach repentance: first, to the Jews, and then to the nations.

Jonah was on a ship, and great storm came upon them, threatening to sink the ship; Jesus is now

found in a boat, and a great storm came upon them, too.

Jonah was found asleep during the storm; so was Jesus.

But Jonah admitted it was his fault that the crew were in danger; Jesus is out to save the crew, and

everyone in the world willing to accept the good news.

And Jonah stopped the storm, by letting the crew throw him overboard, to be swallowed by a great

fish; Jesus is stopping the storm, by his word! Jesus stops the storm by telling the wind to cease and the waves to calm down – and they do!

And, as everyone knows quite familiarly, Jonah is swallowed by the great fish, only to be vomited

up at the shore on the third day, while Jesus was swallowed by the tomb, after his Crucifixion, only to rise by his own power on the third day.

There’s a cartoon of Nicodemus being interviewed by a high priest who’s asking why he would ever waste his newly constructed tomb on that executed fellow from Nazareth, and Nicodemus shrugs a little, replying, “It was only for three days.”

(Or only two, the way we count days in our culture now.)

Our Church, dedicated to St. Nicholas

So, there are more similarities and contrasts than I had thought, between today’s pericope and the

book of Jonah. Late in his ministry, Jesus would reply to those who were badgering him with insistence (and with insincerity) to give them a sign, saying that this generation – in other words, those hypocrites – would be given no sign, except for the sign of Jonah. In today’ word, He is giving the sign of Jonah to his own apostles in the boat during a storm, giving it by acting it out.

Would would fall asleep in a ship or a boat that’s rocking violently and is on the verge of sinking into the deep? Only Jonah – and Jesus. I think that Jesus was very likely preparing his apostles with yet another lesson to remember, as preparation for the saying he would give, later on, to his insistent hypocritical adversaries, about the sign of Jonah.

Yes, Jesus answers our prayers. Sometimes He answers by letting us wait, sometimes by giving us

something other than we’d asked. Sometimes we’re in a bad place for receiving answers if we’re being hypocritical or insisting too much on having things our own way. He was preaching repentance for salvation, and was living this preaching, too, by his actions. Perhaps in by his reference to Jonah’s plight, and his living of it in today’s boat story, He’s telling us the very same thing, preaching repentance for salvation: as the Didache put it:

“There are two ways: the way of life, and the way of death – and there is a great difference

between the two ways!”

The didache then gives a nice exhortation summarizing Christian life, how we are to live – if we mean to follow the way of life, or things we may neglect, if we don’t mind following the way of death. The stark choice is always before us.

We have celebrated our Lord’s passion, his death, his resurrection, and at his request the giving of

the Holy Spirit in power to the disciples on Pentecost. We’ve celebrated the feast of all of the Saints, and in the Byzantine manner we look to their courage in living the way of life, and we take up our own courage to live it to the fullest ourselves. Now, during the Apostles’ Fast, may we stick to the narrow gate and the rocky road, to the unpopular but saving way of Life which our Lord is and proposes.

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