Then they said to him, ‘What shall we do to you, that the sea may quieten 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 quieten 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.
The sailors ask Jonah what they should do to resolve the situation, which was getting worse. Jonah admits he’s the problem and seems willing to bear the consequences; he tells them to hurl him into the sea. However this response leaves the responsibility for throwing Jonah to his death, firmly on their shoulders. Jonah could have taken responsibility himself and acted to save the ship and its crew by jumping overboard!
The sailors, though, respond by risking their own lives and going to great lengths trying to reach shore and save Jonah too; but to no avail. Then, remarkably, they (not Jonah!) cry out in prayer to Jonah’s God, by name, asking that God won’t hold them guilty of taking an innocent man’s life, if they do as Jonah suggests. Declaring this as God’s will, they hurl Jonah into the sea and the storm ceases. The sailors immediately worship the God of Israel wholeheartedly. Have they converted from their own faiths to Yahwism? Or have they added Israel’s God alongside whichever gods they previously worshipped? The text doesn’t say – but either way, unbeknown to Jonah and contrary to his intentions, he has brought pagan sailors into a meaningful relationship with the one true God. Where that relationship goes is left to God and them.
God saw an opportunity to reach out and touch the hearts of people who hadn’t heard the gospel. Jonah simply revealed God’s name and referred briefly to the power of God; and that opened the way for a relationship to begin.
This encourages me to believe that God can use my inadequate (and at times, reluctant) efforts at sharing the good news of Christ with others, to draw them into faith. It doesn’t matter what we say, as long as we say something about God and Christ as we engage with others.
Almighty God, thank you for reaching out in love to all the peoples on earth.
Thank you for coming in Jesus to reveal yourself more fully, that we might know you and be drawn into relationship with you.
Forgive us when we keep silent about our faith because we don’t know what to say.
Help us speak of you as a natural part of every conversation with others, trusting your Spirit to complete your work. Amen