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Contemplations on the Book of Jonah, by Pope Shenouda III

7- The Mariners' Virtues

 

The first beautiful attribute of the mariners of this ship was that they were men of prayer.

When they were attacked by the storm which was about to break the ship, the Holy Bible says: "Then the mariners were afraid and everyman cried out to his god" (Jon. 1:5). Here we notice that they resorted to God prior to taking any necessary action dictated by human discretion to save the situation. They prayed first then they cast out their wares in order to lighten the load of the ship. Thus they held prayer on a higher level than their maritime skills, relying more on it.

When they awakened Jonah, they did not say to him: "Arise and help us to lighten the load of the ship", but they said: "Arise, call on your God,. perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish".

St-Takla.org Image: Coptic icon of Jonah the prophet and the whale صورة في موقع الأنبا تكلا: أيقونة قبطية تمثل الحوت يبتلع يونان النبى

St-Takla.org Image: Coptic icon of Jonah the prophet and the whale

صورة في موقع الأنبا تكلا: أيقونة قبطية تمثل الحوت يبتلع يونان النبي

The mariners and all those who were on the ship were praying at that time. The only person who was not praying was Jonah, God's prophet!

Even after they had awakened him the Holy Bible does not say that he woke up and prayed!

Truly, it was an embarrassing situation! Jonah "had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down and was fast asleep". It is amazing that the great prophet was asleep at the time at which the gentiles were praying. This is very embarrassing! What makes it more shameful is when the gentile ship captain went to him, reproaching him, saying: "What do you mean, sleeper?" What is this indolence, slothfulness and indifference? Why do you not rise up and pray like the rest of the people? "Arise, call on your God perhaps, our God will consider us, so that we may not perish".

Do you really care for your honor, Jonah? Where is this honor, when you are the only one who is asleep and the gentiles around you are praying and reproaching you for your sleep?

How wondrous is the Lord! He reproves one of his prophets through a gentile! If God had sent him an angel to reproach him or even another prophet like him it would have been more admissible. If his reproof would not be through an angel or a prophet, then let it be through an ordinary believer. To be reproached by a gentile, a heathen, a man who does not know God, is utter humiliation to make him feel the extent of his triviality and the depth of his sin.

At any rate, God knows that reproof is useful even for prophets so he did not deprive Jonah from this grace and it pleased Him that it should be through a gentile to be more effective.

This is God's way of reproving

When God wanted to reprove His people, He sent them the gentiles who surpassed them in faith, reproaching them. And the Lord said to them: "Many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness" (Matt. 8:11&12). He reproached them by the Canaanite woman who was of an accursed nation, and we have discussed this issue before here on st-takla.org in other pages. And He reproached them also by, the Good Samaritan who was of a race perverted in faith, dogma and tradition, yet who became better than the priest and the Levite, the servants of God.

God rebuked the Pharisee, the most conceited of all people, by the tax collector, who was despised as a sinner, and also by the sinful woman who wet the feet of the Lord with her tears and was more virtuous and loving than the Pharisee.

In this same way the Lord reprimanded Jonah the great prophet. He reproached him by the gentile mariners who rebuked him to arise and pray like them.

It is strange that Jonah was fast asleep at that time. He was so fast asleep that neither the storm nor the tempest nor the buffeted ship awoke him.

How could he disobey God, break His commandment and flee from Him, and yet was able to sleep so deeply? His conscience must have also been dormant like him.

When a person disobeys God, he may become frightened, agitated, perturbed and suffers insomnia and distress, and his sin haunts and pursues him. As for Jonah, he fled from God and was indifferent. With a very relaxed and undisturbed mind he was able to sleep heavily! I imagine that there was a reason behind that deep sleep. Undoubtedly Jonah after all he did, was justifying himself, considering himself innocent in what he had done. Thus he did not feel his guilt nor was worried, but was able to sleep.

Another beautiful attribute of the mariners of this ship was that they were searching for God.

They did not say frantically to Jonah: "Arise and cry out to our god", but they said: "Arise, call on your God". This indicates that they were seeking God and did not know where to find Him. They did not know the true God, but they loved Him and believed in Him without perceiving Him. That is why God revealed Himself to them in the story of Jonah.

Their third beautiful attribute was that they were men of simplicity and faith. Not only did they pray but they also cast lots. They believed that God will disclose to them the truth in that way, and it happened so. They cast lots to know "for whose cause this trouble has come upon" them.

In their righteousness the mariners shrunk from the abomination of sin, perceiving that it was the cause of all man's afflictions. As mariners, they did not say that the great tempest was because of the sea, the nature of the waters and the change of wind, but they realized that it was due to a sin committed by one of them, a requisition of the Divine Justice. Thus they sought "whose cause" that trouble was.

The lot fell on Jonah. Indeed God is kind and good. Even if gentiles pray to Him with an upright conscience, pleading for His guidance, He listens to them and answers their prayer. The fact that the lot fell on Jonah revealed another good attribute in the God-fearing mariners of this ship.

They were also just. They did not pronounce a sentence against any person rashly, but were long-suffering, conscientious and scrupulous.

They could have got rid of Jonah there and then after the lot had fallen on him, especially when he appeared to be a stranger: he was fast asleep whilst all others were praying, he was of an unknown race, and God disclosed him after they all had cried out to Him in prayer.

They wanted to have a clear conscience, so they questioned him, saying: " Please tell us, who are you?

What is your occupation'? Where do you come from?" Many questions!

Indeed they were amazingly long-suffering,

I am surprised at their justice and at the sensitivity of their conscience. The ship was on the verge of sinking, the sea was raging and they might perish at any moment. Nevertheless, they insisted on questioning Jonah in order to have a clear conscience and not to deal unjustly with a human being. They did this despite all the proofs they had in hand but they believed that they should not pronounce anyone guilty without prior judgment. It did not conform with them to pronounce a person guilty without giving him an opportunity to defend himself.

As for Jonah, he confessed to them, saying: "I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land". As soon as they heard those words they were exceedingly afraid.

They were simple people who believed others.

Is your God Jonah the God of the sea and the dry land? We are now in the sea, so we are in the hand of your God. We want to reach the dry land and your God is also the God of the dry land, therefore we are in His hand. 'That is why they were afraid and reproached him, saying: Why have you done this?" And for the second time the great prophet was reproached by the gentiles. It was good that God allowed him to be in that ship whose mariners reproached him without being embarrassed from him as a prophet.

In as much as the mariners were just they were also extremely merciful and compassionate.

When Jonah proved to be guilty, confessing before them his guilt that he had fled from the Lord, and after ensuring that all the trouble that befell them was because of him, they did not want to get rid of him although the sea was growing more tempestuous. They thought of a solution to save the man who was the cause of their trouble.

They were certain that he was guilty and worthy of death, yet it was not easy for them, merciful as they were, to put a man to death even if he was the cause of the loss of their possessions and had brought the threat of danger to their lives.

It was not easy for them to lose him hastily. Thus they said to him: "What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?" Search with us for a solution, because the sea is growing more tempestuous in a very disturbing way. Jonah said to them: "Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you" . For I know that this great tempest is because of me. Throw me into the sea. There is no solution for the problem other than this. Yet despite all this they were reluctant to throw him.

I am amazed at the great mercy of those righteous people. They knew the cause of their problem and knew the remedy but their conscience did not allow them to put it into action. How can we kill this man even if his blood is lawful to us, even if he is guilty and worthy of death? Thus they rowed hard with all their might in order to bring the ship to land, but they could not, for the sea. continued to grow more tempestuous against them.

They did their best to save Jonah, the sinful guilty man from death, but in vain. It was God's will that Jonah should be thrown into the sea, so he fell into those mariners' hands. In order to have a clear conscience, they cried out to the Lord, saying: "We pray, O Lord, please do not let us perish for this man's life, and do not charge us with innocent blood, for You, O Lord, have done as it pleased You. " Having realized that it was God's will and that they could not stand against it, "they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging."

Hence it is clear that those mariners had a pure and sensitive conscience to which they scrupulously wanted to remain loyal.

It was not a light matter for them to commit a sin no matter how pressing the external circumstances were and in spite of the justifying reasons. Their attitude towards Jonah was very noble, very merciful and in accordance with the will of God.

They were people who had hearts prepared for God to work in. They were endeavoring to find God's will in order that they might carry it out. When the sea ceased its raging by their throwing Jonah into it they were assured of the presence of God in the matter. They believed in the Lord, offered Him a sacrifice and made vows. In their belief in the Lord they not only believed that He was God but by offering Him a sacrifice they professed their belief in the propitiation of blood.

Thus God triumphed in the first battle and fulfilled the salvation of the mariners through Jonah's disobedience.

Now there remained two other important things in God's design of salvation: the salvation of the Ninevites and the salvation of Jonah.

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