Patristic Lectionary—10 August 2020, St. Laurence

Consonant with both Anglicanism’s and monasticism’s love of patristic theology-spirituality, I occasionally post selections from Durham University’s two-year lectionary for the Divine Office that draws mostly from patristic writings.  The lectionary was initially edited by Stephen Mark Holmes (University of Edinburgh School of Divinity) and subsequently re-edited and formatted by Michele Freyhauf (Durham University).  Click here for the link to the lectionary.]

Patristic Lectionary—10 August 2020, St. Laurence

[The image is of Merian Matthäus’s copperplate engraving, “Jonah Under the Calabash Tree,” 1625/27]

Jonah 3:1 – 4:11

The Conversion of the Ninevites and Jonah’s Debate with God

Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth.

Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he cried, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.

Then tidings reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, and covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he made proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; let them not feed, or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them cry mightily to God; yea, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence which is in his hands. Who knows, God may yet repent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we perish not?”

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God repented of the evil which he had said he would do to them; and he did not do it.

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the LORD and said, “I pray thee, LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that thou art a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repentest of evil. Therefore now, O LORD, take my life from me, I beseech thee, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the LORD said, “Do you do well to be angry?” Then Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city.

And the LORD God appointed a plant, and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm which attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a sultry east wind, and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah so that he was faint; and he asked that he might die, and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” And the LORD said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labour, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night, and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

St. Cyril of Alexandria

In Ionam 3.23; 4.29 (Patrologia Latina 71:631-638)

And God saw what they did, and how they abandoned their wicked ways. The Lord is quick to show mercy and will save the penitent, immediately absolving them from their former guilt; so that if men give up their sinful habits God ceases to be angry, and His attitude toward them changes to one of kindness. Because he sees that they have turned their minds toward good, he is led to be gentle, and no longer thinks of destroying them. His own words show the truth of this: Why should you die, you men of Israel? said the Lord. I do not desire any man’s death, but his repentance and life. Do not think that the Lord’s reproaches are spoken with malevolence or in hurtful anger; for our God who loves virtue is no worker of evil.

What incomparable kindness, beyond our understanding! What words of ours could suffice to praise him? What thanksgiving can we sing to celebrate his compassion and goodness? For he separates our offences from us, as the psalmist says. See how, in the case of Jonah, God shows him plunged in grief at the wrong time and for the wrong reason, just when as a holy man he ought to have been loud in praise of the Lord. If you are sad, God said to him, or rather if you are in the depths of despair because you have lost the shade of your gourd, a plant that grew up in a single night and perished in the same way, am I to care nothing about a populous city, with more than a hundred and twenty thousand inhabitants not of an age to tell the difference between their right and left hands? By this he means they were still infants, and because they were innocent, they above all naturally deserved mercy. For how should a babe who cannot yet tell right hand from left be involved in sin? But the Lord names even cattle as worthy of pity, and here too he shows his goodness of heart. For if a righteous man has a humane regard for his animals, and this too is considered praiseworthy, it is no wonder that the very God of all things should grant mercy and pity even to the beasts of the field.

So Christ saved all men, giving himself as a ransom for both small and great, wise and foolish, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile.

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