As is typical with Twelve Prophets, the Book of Jonah begins with a call from God to the prophet (Jon. 1:1-2). Unlike the others, however, Jonah rejects God’s call. Foolishly, he attempts to flee the presence of the Lord by taking a ship to foreign shores (Jon. 1:3). This imperils not only him, but his shipmates, for—as we have seen throughout the Book of the Twelve—breaking covenant with God has tangible consequences, and the actions of individuals always affect the community. God sends a storm. First, it ruins the mariners’ commercial prospects, as they are forced to throw all the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship (Jon. 1:5). Eventually it threatens their very lives (Jon. 1:11). Only when Jonah offers to be thrown into the sea—which the sailors reluctantly accept—does the storm abate and the danger to the community subside (Jon. 1:12-15).
The purpose of a call from God is to serve other people. Jonah’s call is for the benefit of Nineveh. When he rejects God’s guidance, not only do the people he was called to serve languish, but the people surrounding him suffer. If we accept that we are all called to serve God in our work—which is probably different from Jonah’s work, but no less important to God (see Theology of Work Project article Vocation Overview)—then we recognize that failing to serve God in our work also diminishes our communities. The more powerful our gifts and talents, the greater the harm we are apt to do if we reject God’s guidance in our work. Undoubtedly we can all bring to mind people whose prodigious abilities enabled them to do great harm in fields of business, government, society, science, religion, and all the rest. Imagine the good they could have done, the evil they could have avoided, if they had submitted their skills first to the worship and service of the Lord. Our gifts may seem puny in comparison, yet imagine the good we could do and the evil we could avert if we did our work in service to God over the course of a lifetime.