My mother’s sister was also my godmother. She did quite a bit of sewing during her life, and spent lots of time at her sewing machine. For some years, she and her husband lived in Houma, Louisiana, where her sewing machine was located just in front of a window. Outside, she had planted some castor bushes. She often mentioned the one which she could see most clearly while seated at her machine. The castor bush, in case you don’t know, produced enormous leaves—maybe two feet in diameter. They are gathered, creased, veined and convoluted. And the bush grows so quickly and produces those fantastic leaves so speedily that you can almost watch them grow; certainly, their growth is noticeable from day to day. My aunt used to marvel at that bush. She used to say that although she had been sewing for years, she could never produce anything with her sewing machine or by hand that would remotely approximate those intricate, glorious leaves which were produced by a bush that had no intelligence, nor any training in sewing!
In the book of Jonah, we have that delightful story of God’s concern even for the pagan world. It is written tongue-in-cheek, telling us of a reluctant prophet who tried to escape God’s command to go and preach to the pagan city of Nineveh. He decided to go to Spain; surely God wouldn’t find him there. But during the voyage, the sea became very rough and the sailors decided that the gods were displeased with one of the people aboard. They drew straws to determine who the culprit was, and the finger of guilt pointed to Jonah, who then admitted that he was fleeing from God. So they tossed him into the sea to rid themselves of this cause of the bad weather. A large fish happened along; it swallowed Jonah, and he lived for three days inside the fish, while it took him back to the Holy Land and there regurgitated him onto the beach.
He decided he better go and do God’s will. He went to Nineveh, but was not happy about it. He preached repentance as God had commanded him, and to his surprise, those pagan Ninevites actually took him very seriously, and did penance, for which God happily forgave their sins. This irritated Jonah even more; God had no business being merciful to pagans, even repentant ones. Jonah went outside the city to rest before returning to Israel, and God graciously allowed one of those big castor plants to spring up overnight to shelter and shade him. Jonah was delighted with the plant. But then God, to make a point, sent a worm to eat the plant and make it die. Then God sent blazing sunshine and a burning east wind to attack Jonah. He grumbled bitterly: I’d be better off dead. And God answered: You are upset over a dead plant. And should I not be concerned over the 120,000 inhabitants of Nineveh? The message of the book of Jonah is simple: if God is merciful, even to pagans, should not we also be merciful in imitation of our God? Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This Message was composed some years ago.