But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried to his god. They threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten it for them. Jonah, meanwhile, had gone down into the hold of the ship and had lain down, and was fast asleep. The captain came and said to him, “what are you doing sound asleep? Get up, call on your god! Perhaps the god will spare us a thought so that we do not perish.”
The sailors said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, so that we may know on whose account this calamity has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us why this calamity has come upon us. What is your occupation? Where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” “I am a Hebrew,” he replied. “I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men were even more afraid, and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them so.
Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea was growing more and more tempestuous. He said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.” Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring the ship back to land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more stormy against them Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, O Lord, we pray, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life. Do not make us guilty of innocent blood; for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.” So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the lord even more, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.
For us as Christians it can often feel difficult or confusing to know how to listen for God and to know that it is God we are hearing. In the passage today we witness how God used nature to speak to Jonah. However, it was only through the people around Jonah that he remembered who he was and that he was accountable to God’s call.
As Jonah was fleeing from God he got on board with a bunch of sailors who were all strangers to him. Even though they were strangers there was some level of trust or agreement among them because we know that Jonah had been upfront with them that he was fleeing from the presence of God. When the storm swells the sailors respond with urgency and begin scrambling to regain control! Meanwhile as the sailors are yelling, crying out to their different gods, and even throwing over cargo to save their lives Jonah decides to escape to sleep. The sailors are all doing all that they can to regain control, but Jonah has already checked out. He is already fleeing from God and at this point of crisis he chooses escape again and goes to sleep.
The storm was so strong that the captain literally calls for all hands on deck. The captain wakes Jonah up and calls him to account: “Get up, call on your God!” In the moment that Jonah wakes up. I imagine that he would have immediately felt fear and shame fill him. He probably felt fear because he realized this storm was not something he could sleep away. He may have felt shame fill him as the captain is catching him sleeping when everyone else is trying to keep the boat afloat.
So it is through this group of strangers in the middle of a storm that Jonah must come face to face with himself and what he is doing. It is when he becomes known to the people around him that he remembers what God has called him to. These sailors did not even worship the same God as Jonah and yet God still used them to ask Jonah who he is and from where he comes. God was using the sailors to remind Jonah of his purpose and to show him that when he runs from God it not only affects him, but also those around him.
In the same way that these sailors held Jonah accountable for his actions to decide to flee from God’s call, there are often times when God speaks to us through those around us. This could happen through creation, friends, family, and like Jonah experienced, through strangers. We can learn from Jonah that when there is a crisis or when we feel challenged God may be calling us to come face to face with who we are created to be and what God has called us to, instead of escaping or ignoring the energy of the moment.
When we feel challenged by those around us may we see it as an opportunity from God to remember our purpose. When we feel shame may we be open to what the Holy Spirit might be moving within us. When we hear God’s voice may we pause and consider the ways that the wellbeing of others is deeply connected to our own. Amen.
Written by: Cassie Chee, Pastoral Intern