The Whale & the Samaritan:
by Fr. Ambrose Criste, O.Praem.
Jonah in the belly of the whale; the man who fell victim to robbers and the kindness of the good Samaritan—the Sacred Liturgy puts before our eyes two of the most iconic stories in all the Holy Scriptures: Jonah from the Old Testament and the Good Samaritan from the New.
Have you ever wondered about that big fish, the whale that swallowed up Jonah? Whales are one of those creatures that we humans are ambivalent about. Sometimes they are good and helpful. Sometimes they are dangerous and fearsome. You’ve heard the stories about dolphins who help people who are drowning or help keep surfers safe from sharks; and recently there was a story about a whale off Dana Point that was so grateful to have been released from a fishing net it which it had become trapped, that it frolicked around the boat that rescued it in an apparent sign of gratitude. On the other hand, the killer whales at places like Sea World sometimes live up to their name and turn on their trainers and handlers. Jonah must have been somewhat ambivalent about his own whale. On the one hand, it saved his life when he certainly would have drowned; but on the other hand, in taking him back to the shore, that whale forced him right back into the mission of prophecy to the Ninevites that Jonah was trying to flee. So the Lord, in His great mercy for Jonah, used that big fish to save Jonah; and at the same time the Lord, in His great mercy for the Ninevites, used Jonah to save the Ninevites.
The Fathers of the Church teach us that we can find Our Savior on every page of Holy Writ. He is prophesied and foreshadowed in the Old Testament, as He is in the story of Jonah, and He shines through in His life and teaching in the New. Since the Holy Scriptures are the living Word of God, they admit of a number of different kinds of interpretations. The Fathers often favor what we call the allegorical interpretation, so that in the story of the Good Samaritan Jerusalem is heaven, Jericho is this world of sin, the unfortunate traveler is Adam (and so all of fallen mankind), and the Good Samaritan is Christ, who alone can save our fallen race when the Priest and the Levite—the Law and the Prophets—fail to do so.
That same Christ, who in His great mercy lifts us up and saves us, wants us in turn to be instruments of mercy and messengers of mercy for those around us—Good Samaritans to be sure, who come to the help of our neighbor even when that is inconvenient or unimaginable or way beyond the boundaries of what is expected and reasonable to everyone else around us. Our Lord might ask us to be instruments of His mercy in even more unbelievable ways, so that we become the merciful whale who picks up a reluctant prophet and points him back in the right direction when he’s trying to run away from the Lord.
Although we don’t celebrate her in the liturgy, the Roman Martyrology commemorates St. Faustina Kowalska today, the day on which she died. St. Faustina was one of Our Lord’s most powerful messengers of His Divine Mercy, and with all the trials and contradictions that she faced in her prophetic mission, she almost certainly would have sympathized with Jonah. Fortunately, the message of Mercy entrusted to her care found its way back upon the shore, after it had been hidden in the belly of the whale, as it were, for several decades. So I offer you one brief quotation from St. Faustina, a little word from the great messenger of the Lord’s Divine Mercy to remind us how best to be ready when He calls upon us to be prophets and Good Samaritans, instruments of His mercy to some Ninevite or wounded traveler whom we will meet today:
“I waste no time in dreaming. I take every moment singly as it comes, for this is within my power. The past does not belong to me; the future is not mine; with all my soul I try to make use of the present moment.”
“Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
The Gospel of John seems almost misplaced for the Easter season…
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