When I starting getting serious about God (again) during college, St. Paul was my guy. His conversion story was awesome. I never got over how drastically his life changed, and how sudden, all because he finally listened to God.
So it’s fitting that, on his feast day, we’re going to talk about converts. But I’m not talking Paul right now—let’s talk Jonah.
Jonah? Sure. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, since we read his tale at Mass this week. We know the story. But this reading wasn’t about his stubbornness, or even the whale. It was about what happened when he finally listened to God. It was about the people he witnessed to. The Ninevites. The non-Jews. The Gentiles. a.k.a. people like me.
I’ve been delving into this book Jesus of Nazareth, and there are entire sections on who Jesus preached to. Namely, the Jewish population—not the Gentiles. Because once Israel understood and believed the good news of his coming, then they could reach the rest of the world. That was the job of his disciples, not him.
But to hear of Jonah, back in Old Testament days, and his duty to wicked foreigners? It wasn’t God who spoke to the Gentiles; it was His people. Some of the Jews listened. Some of them didn’t. Some of them, like Jonah, listened eventually. But it was Jonah who struck me. We know that he was called to travel outside Israel, but I never considered what that meant. He traveled to Assyria, to those Gentiles, and no wonder he didn’t want to. They had a reputation, and it wasn’t a good one.
Paul was the same. He didn’t just not listen, he literally put Christians to death. He had to be beaten down and blinded to finally turn to Jesus, and even then he stumbled around for a while until he regained his sight. So, yeah, God’s chosen people had a job to do. They not only had to evangelize, they had to leave the comfort of the promised land to do it.
Go out of your comfort zone. Preach God to people who don’t know Him. Save them. The Ninevites repented. And Paul started churches in Greece and Asia and wherever. Thank God they did. Because without them, the Gentiles would have no hope. People like me.