September 21, 2021

Homily on the Prophet Jonah and on the Repentance of the Ninevites (St. Ephraim the Syrian)

By St. Ephraim the Syrian

1. Jonah the Hebrew came up from the sea, and preached in Nineveh to the uncircumcised. The prophet went into the violent city and he threw it into confusion with a fearful voice. The gentile city, upon hearing it, cowered at the proclamation of the son of Amath. Also the sea was altogether shaken because of his voice coming up from the depths. Going down into the sea he shook it up, and when he came out onto dry land he immediately caused a tempest there too.

2. The sea was shaken because of his escape and the earth trembled when he preached. The sea paused at his prayer and the earth stopped at the great compassion of God. In the belly of the great sea monster he was praying. In this way so too did the Ninevites pray in the great city. The prayer pulled Jonah out of the sea monster and the entreaty pulled Nineveh away from ruin.

3. Jonah ran away from the face of God, as the Ninevites did from goodness and righteous. Judgment locked the two of them in prison, as if they were debtors. But the two brought out repentance, in order that they might have redemption from both of their own personal failings - the heavenly judgment and retribution. God commanded the sea monster to guard Jonah while he was off dry land.

4. For the Prophet himself teaches that it is just for the repentant to live. Grace gives a type in itself. Jonah, having repented, went up out of the sea so that he might lead the sunken city. The city was stirred up, just like the sea, through the voice of Jonah coming up from the depths. The just Jonah opened his mouth and Nineveh heard it and was immediately put into an uproar.

5. The Jew’s preaching cowed the city, apportioning death to his hearers. The healer was a herald, standing between giants as if they were children, cowed in fear of him. His voice broke the hearts of kings, his voice turned their city against them. By one voice he cut them off from all hope. He drank the cup against them full of wrath and rage.

6. The kings heard and were troubled, and even more than that they were humbled. They threw down their crowns and yearned for repentance. The magistrates heard and made an uproar and instead of radiant garments they put on sackcloth. The elders heard, the ones worthy of much honor, and they covered their heads in dirt. The rich heard and immediately they opened their treasuries in front of the poor. The money-lenders heard and immediately ripped up the account sheets they had. The debtors heard and began discussing a just way to repay the money that they owed. For each began to be troubled about his own salvation and were put to shame by God. There was not a man there who wanted to be caught up in evil, all were felled by one just purpose: how one might gain one’s own soul.

7. The thieves, upon hearing the voice of Jonah, in haste returned the goods to their owners. The foolish ones, who happened upon stolen goods, took nothing, but for the sake of themselves forsook those things. For each justly examined themselves and began to be philanthropic towards their neighbor. The murderers, upon hearing it, confessed, thinking little of their fear of the judges. The judges heard it and came together, since this judge was not in a fearful wrath. Each was eager to sow philanthropy so that he might reap something from the forgiveness. The sinners heard the voice of Jonah and confessed their deeds. The slaves heard and their esteem for their masters abounded. At the voice of Jonah the rich and the violent and the lofty humbled themselves.

8. Our repentance is the Ninevites’ repentance just as a dream is an afternoon shadow. The Ninevites gave many alms, shall we not cease from our arrogance? The Ninevites freed their slaves with honor, let us not enslave free men unjustly.

9. When Jonah the prophet was sent into the city of Nineveh, full of debt, righteous judgment equipped him, not with armor and spear but with a smaller proclamation. A doctor is sent to lance their wounds and to cure the diseases with the application of astringent medications. After opening the door, he shows his own drugs, although they are exceedingly frightening, severe, and astringent. For grace sent Jonah to the city, not so he might overturn it, but so that he might convert it.

10. Jonah did not tell them to repent, showing that the one who is sick goes to the doctor. He shut the door of hope on them, so that you might be shown how they cried out, fearing his sentence.

11. Nineveh heard the sound of his sentence and with fasts and prayers it released itself, so that you might be shown what sort of thing the consolation of God is able to do. For it released itself from the sentence of God. They were made sick by their sins. Just as with a sword, it cowered at his awful word, these ones. Not so that he might cut off these ones, but rather so that the ones seeing him might stop the sicknesses born of evil deeds.

12. The doctor is the one who comes upon the sick and makes them to be cured. Practicing, he shows his blade to the sick. The city saw him and immediately was cowering, for he stood outside the city, gripping the sword of wrath. From their beds the sick ran to repentance out of fear. The voice of Jonah cut, just as a sword does, old lesions and terrible wounds. For the doctor begins to heal the sick with a rod of threats.

13. In suggesting drugs for their sick patients, doctors make use of flattery. Jonah [used] a harsh and very threatening voice. The sick person flees from his bed, for he sees the rod full of wrath and anger, which heals those sick from the disease of desire as finally each and every person is healed from their fear.

14. The feast of the kings ceased, and the meal of the princes came to an end. Why do I say these things? If they even made infants not nurse, who among them could eat in the end? If the beasts were prevented in haste from drinking water, who among them would then drink wine? And if the king would clothe himself in sackcloth, who would then put on his robe? And if they looked at the self-control of prostitutes, who would begin marriage or giving someone in marriage? If the happy were made to tremble, who then among them would ever laugh? If they all cried and mourned, to whom would jesting appear amusing? If thieves became just, who would steal? And if the city fell, who could protect his own house? Gold is cast upon the earth, and there was no one who picked it up. They opened their treasure rooms and no one looted them. The profligate closed their eyes, so that they might not look licentiously upon the ornaments of women. The women hastened to cast aside their ornaments so that the ones who look upon them might not be scandalized. For each of them was concerned about their neighbor, that each might heal and at the same time be healed so that wall would be saved.

15. Each urged his neighbor to prayer, supplication, and confession. The city became as one body, for each took care lest another among them should fall. No one prayed there that they alone should be saved, but rather as each one of the members [of the body] prays about the salvation of all. For the whole city, as one man, was summoned to be given into destruction andcorruption. The just were praying on behalf of the sinners, so that each of them might be saved with the others. Conversely the sinners were crying out to God, so that he might pay heed to the voice of the just.

16. Present these things to your mind, beloved, and pay close attention. Look how all these people at the same time went about in excessive mourning. For the cry of the infants was exceedingly pitiably and it made the whole city cry and wail. The cry of the children went up through tears into the hearts of the parents and their compassion was stirred. The old men, in lamentations, plucked out their grey hair and cast it onto the earth. And again the young ones looked on their elders in anguish and lifted up their own voices even more and both cried out pitiably. Wherefore, with one accord, at a single moment, they would die and all be buried together. The children ruled over their mothers and each of them drew from the other, so that they might all be saved from death. The infants and the toddlers, at that fearful noise, drew back from their mothers’ breasts with tears.

17. They reckoned the evenings and the mornings of the days which Jonah the Hebrew proclaimed, so that they might see how many remained. And when the day came again, they cried out in tears, since only a short time remained. Sons asked their fathers, “Fathers, tell your most beloved children how many days have gone by and how many remain from when the son of Amath, the Hebrew, began proclaiming and what the hour he showed to us was, so that we all living might go down together into Hades. When is the pleasant city about to be obliterated, or what sort of day it is when the report of our destruction goes out to all creation and those who pass by see the bitter sight?”

18. When the parents heard these things from their children, they were seized up and dragged down in bitter tears. And altogether they were not able to give an answer to them, since grief had stopped their mouths, lest they multiply the grieving of their children and they die before the appointed time. They bound together their compassion and they stopped their tears so that they might assure their beloved children. The parents were afraid to speak the truth for the day that the prophet spoke of was near. And just as Abraham, wanting to assure his son Isaac, unwillingly he prophesied, thus also the Ninevites unwillingly prophesied in their wanting to assure their own children.

19. Isaac, the speaking lamb, asked, “O Father, where is the sheep for the sacrifice?” But Abraham did not reveal the mystery, lest in any way Isaac might be grieved and his gift soiled. For Abraham was anxious how he might convince his son. And as he moved away from the unseen things, he prophesied about the unseen things. He did not want to speak to him and tell him the truth, fearing to say to him, “You are,” when indeed he spoke prophetically about another. For the tongue of Abraham knew the fullness of his heart and while his mind remained slow, his tongue prophesied.

20. The mouth has a habit of learning from the heart; it teaches the other the mysteries about to come. Abraham said to his lads, “Both I and Isaac are going up atop the mountain, then we shall return to you.” For though Abraham wanted to lie, he actually prophesied. It was not a lie, but rather the truth at the same time. Thus also the Ninevites spoke the truth while lying, for though they seemed to lie, they were prophets of the truth. Crying, they told their children, “Do not be afraid, O most beloved, but rather take heart, for the Lord has an exceptional care towards humans, and he does not simply do away with those in his own image. If a painter desires to protect with all security and attention his painting of a soulless image, how much more so would the Lord guard his own image from evil, that ensoulled and reasoning image? Our city would not be overturned and obliterated, but rather he calls people through threats to repentance. You all have many times been chastised by us, most beloved, and do you know the threats were made to help you? You have become wise and heirs through the discipline, and the grief of the whippings has become joy for you. Therefore, understand the care of God. For as a father disciplines his children again with mercy; he raises his staff to provoke fear and instruction. He disciplines them so they may not die, but rather turn towards correction. For if we fathers disciplined our own compassion by the threat of thrashings, wanting for you to gain from it, how much more so the Lord? If he disciplines as a father, by his grace he might save us. By the rod of his threats, he would make clear his love and open to all of us his storehouse of mercy. We are not able to love you in this way, as much as God loves the children of men in his compassion. Take heart, children, and stop your tears: for our city will not fall, but the wrath will pass by.”

21. These things the Ninevites said to their children, encouraging them and unwittingly prophesying. For they were truly prophets; their repentance made them so. They did not cease speaking these sorts of things, or crying. For even as they were consoling, they were still mourning in groans. The fear of the threat urged them into fasting, and they desired to dissolve the sentence with prayers.

22. The king went out and he displayed himself and the city was moved when it saw him in sackcloth. The king saw the city in mourning at the sight of him, and was filled with tears. The city cried over the king, seeing dirt and ash upon his head. The king cried over the whole city, seeing it mourning and wearing sackcloth. All mourned at the same time and all wailed and they made the stones themselves weep for them.

23. Who ever prayed like this? Who ever beseeched in this way? Or who ever humbled themselves like this before God? Who again suddenly cast off his schemes, both the secret and the manifest? Who from a simple sound hastened to break their heart upon their sins? Who, hearing a word, was shattered in mind? Who, at a feeble voice was seized by fear of death? Or who saw reflected before his eyes the caring God, because of repentance? Who saw the Just One unsheathing his sword, or a whole city crying out and moaning?

24. Who would not be moved by the sound of the wailing of both the young and the old, infants at the same time as their mothers? All, at the same time, mourning, for all heard that the days were fulfilled, and they were all about to, in a single day, go down to Hades, the city was overturned as it was impossible for there to be people to bury and at the same time be buried, because the sentence was about to fall over all. The young men, who were about to be joined in marriage, all of a sudden received invitations to their own deaths. Who could bear the wailing of the brides, as they were sitting in their bridal chambers, who, instead of joy burst into tears and fell, with their bridegrooms, into death? Who is able to hold back their tears, seeing the king crying, because all of a sudden instead of dwelling in his kingdom and living amongst the esteemed citizens, was sentenced to death among them, and sat in ashes? Instead of sitting in his chariot, with much honor,he heard that his city was about to fall. Instead of being furnished with food and clothing, he heard that he was going to drink death. The whole city, which was living, was called to fall into the abyss.

25. The king called to his dignitaries and he wept for them, and they for him. He began to speak in tears before them. “I became a victor among rivers and wars, how many times were you as well were glorified, contending so nobly in battle? But now this is not a battle we are accustomed to, that we might go out and conquer as we always have. We have triumphed over many nations and peoples, but we are defeated by one Hebrew. Only one voice struck down our king, and this voice of this pitiful one has shaken all of us. We have completely ravaged cities, and now in our own city a foreigner is superior to us. Our city Nineveh, the mother of giants, is afraid and alarmed by the voice of the least man. The fearsome lioness in her own den has been exceedingly shaken by the Hebrew. Nineveh howls over the whole of creation but the voice of Jonah roars over it! How thus the seed of Nimrod, the progenitor of noble giants has been brought low!”

26. The king gave the best advice to his dignitaries, advising thus: “Let us now not be slack, nor let us be destroyed as some miserable people. For when someone bears a trial courageously and they do not fall, they gain a double reward. If they should live, they would be glorified and if they should die they would be spoken well of, just as a noble and courageous athlete. Therefore, let us be strong and nobly courageous and let us equip ourselves for the contest. For if we do not win, but die nobly, we will at least leave our good name for all. It is heard by us that our righteousness and humanity has come to the attention of God. The righteous judge keeps away the evildoers and God saves since he is good and humane. Let us fear his righteous judgment and let us attempt to increase his compassion. For if the judgment goes unfortunately, the majority of his pity is with us. For now we find ourselves between goodness and judgment and we have armed ourselves anew for the new battle which is coming at us. Let us not look down on Jonah, for it is simply necessary to hold fast to his proclamation. I fell from his voice onto great care and grief, which he proclaimed. His appearance was pitiable and small, but his voice was great and very terrible.

27. “I consulted him before all of you, so that as in a crucible, his words might be tested. He himself is not afraid before us, nor scared, nor shaken. Nor indeed is he terrified or disturbed by the words which he said. But altogether he did not alter the words, since they were bound up in the truth.

28. “I flattered him, but I did not persuade him. I became fearful of him, but I did not soften him. I showed him riches and he laughed at me. I showed him the sword and he mocked it. He was a stranger to the sword and was an enemy of bribes. By none of these was that one in the least bit swayed. There are ones who are swayed when offered gifts, and others who see a sword and tremble. We placed this Hebrew between flattery and threats, and we found him to be courageous and triumph over both of them. He saw the sword and he mocked it. Similarly also he conquered the love of money and considered it worthless. A small word went out from his mouth for his sharpness and he cut off all our words.

29. “He did not completely frighten away my austerity, nor indeed did he disrespect my honor. But all of my wealth this one considered as fodder. Did not this one make his face bronze coming to us from Jerusalem? His word became for us a mirror, and we saw in it God who dwells among us and is angry at our evil deeds. In it we see the righteous judgment, which is enraged by our wicked tresspasses. Through it the sentence which comes out against us from the mouth of God goes against our city.

30. “If the one who came proclaimed peace and victory, we would have suspected him as someone looking for gain, indeed one who prophesied good things to us so that he might gain profit from us in return for his speech.

31. “A true doctor comes and proclaims the truth to the sick one and that is necessary for him to operate. He prescribes for him a fiery, sharp caustic remedy. He does not have cowardice when he announces a tooth extraction. He does not fear to tell the king about the pains and if he should have to drink some harsh medicine.

32. “Who would call a liar the prophet who proclaims wrath? If he were a liar, he would likely slacken his proclamation, but he sets him above, as I see, as a doctor of all. For he does not simply want to steal our bread. Indeed if Jonah, being just, fasts, how much more so should we dedicate ourselves to fasting, since we have sinned? If he, being holy, beseeches and prays, let us adorn ourselves with sackcloth and ashes. The just one fasts and prays, that he might not appear to people as a liar. Perhaps he strives to overturn our city. Because he wants the proclamation he proclaimed among us to be believed. Let us fight him with fasting and prayer. For a prophet does not sin, but our sins cling to us.

33. “Indeed, the Hebrew is not overturning our city, but our wickedness is taking it down. We have another unseen enemy, friends, against whom we must contend courageously. We have heard about the prizes of Job, the just. His courage is known and his story and his trial have proclaimed, as from a trumpet, his victory against the Enemy to all the world. If, therefore, the Enemy contends thus against the just one, what will he do among us sinners? He is the one who came out in the symposium to overturn the house upon the children of Job, mixing wine and blood and shatters unsparingly their bones with their cups.

34. “We have conquered kings in battle, now hasten to conquer Satan with prayer. Our formations finally go out and let us join the mighty battle against him. Throw off your breastplates and put on sackcloth, tear open the quivers and take refuge in prayer. Abandon the sword and search for faith, break the missiles and take up fasting. The victory which we have won previously against the enemies and kings of the earth is for nothing. If we should win this, the greater of the victories and the contests which now stands before us, and as I arrayed myself in the first rank in those battles, now I will stand in the front in this battle.”

35. And the king stood up with haste and cast off his purple and put on sackcloth. The Ninevites all rent their garments and put on sackcloth and, with the king, the Ninevites who had always been shining and bright lamented, appeared as Indians at the coming evil.

36. The king took his dignitaries and went out to see the whole city. He sent heralds to proclaim everywhere so that everyone might as one repent. “Let each one put off his own evil,” said the king, “lest he be wounded or destroyed in the battle. Let the robber give back and the hopeless show wisdom, the angry be meek, the glutton fast. Let no one bear malice, let no one snarl at another, let no one oppress another, nor abuse them. If we should get rid of our errors against our fellow servants, God will release us from our errors against him. This will be the way we array ourselves, and we will achieve victory and our city will be saved.”

37. These sorts of things the heralds of the king cried out in the great city and to fast with their flocks. The king stood, just as a doctor, curing the sickness. He ordered a fast for his camp. He provided his armor, fully of glory and through it the door of redemption. He hastened to herald in the camp a bow of meekness, whose arrows would reach heaven and, having been loosed, would conquer. He went forward and drew forth these things - love, faith, hope. He kept back the sword and furnished joy. After the king armed his camp in this way, with fasting and prayer, the multitude finally began to be inspected, both men and women, all people together, and he said to them, “Let us all fight for our salvation, honorably and courageously!” He provided in himself a model for them, clad in sackcloth, so that the whole city might be outfitted in the same way.

38. The son of Nimrod, the noble giant, left off slaying the beasts and instead slew the passions. Instead of beasts, he slaughtered the shame sin. He left alone the beasts outside the walls and instead destroyed the evil within. Instead of taking up arms of glory with the city he urged all of them to go towards repentance. The king shut down the streets so that they could be washed from the filth of sin. He walked humbly, and became still in the midst of the trembling city, so that it would not fall down.

39. Jonah saw these things and was exceedingly astounded. He began to be amazed at the children of the foreigners. He saw the successes and the virtues of the Ninevites and in tears mourned for the seed of Abraham. He saw the seed of Canaan set aright in faith and the seed of Jacob fornicating themselves away from God. He saw the uncircumcised circumcise their hearts and the circumcised remaining in their hard-heartedness. The king of Nineveh knew the cause of the promised wrath—their sins. Wherefore he cut out the cause and he drove away the evil things. He is truly a physician, he saw securely the sickness of the city. With the medicine of fasting he healed the city. With sackcloth and ashes he drove sin from them. Jonah, as a judge, demanded correction from them and the fasting forgave their sins.

40. The Ninevites came together so that they could show the Lord their shame and flee death. They conceived a mighty fast to stop the sentence of death and provide life for them. Jonah feared this fast, that they might be saved through it and he be revealed as a liar. But the repentance rendered the sentence of Jonah null and void. Wherefore the Ninevites, as wise people, knew that God has compassion and mercy and he inclines compassionately towards the ones who repent whole-heartedly. They saw the hardened prophet and the humane God. Being forgiven they fled the hardness to the compassionate one. Jonah cut off hope of their boasts, but fasting magnified the hope and proclaimed life. Earlier the sky looked down darkly upon them, now the sky shined brightly upon their repentance and much humility. The city was shaken, but it was solidified in its alms-giving. Infants watched in the arms of their mothers, since even they were taught at that time to fast.

41. The elders bellowed in sackcloth and ashes and life was added to them, just as to Ezekiel. The young cried out in contrition. God guarded his own crowns for them. The brides adorned themselves with gloominess, now turned back into their bridal chambers with joy. The beasts cried out because they had not drank any water, and the voice of them all was awful, both the men and the animals. But Justice heard their call, and grace immediately saved the city from the day which Jonah threatened them. For the city continually fasted and unceasingly beseeched. Their eyes did not dry from the tears of repentance, their tongue did not cease asking for mercy. Their ears did not hear another plan. For everywhere laments, cries and moans were heard in the city. There was nowhere to be seen anyone smiling or laughing or playing, since all of that was cut off. For the strange tears were borne unceasingly asking for mercies. They acquired by repentance a fast with purity. At the same time, men acquired unhindered self-control in regards to women.

42. The grace of God saw these things, and was moved compassionately and shed its life and compassion upon them like dew. For it did not want the death of sinners when they turned around their lives. But the humane, good, merciful and benevolent one is always desiring repentance and salvation. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

43. Among the wrathful people, reconciliation and peace was shown. For the elders made peace, the young practiced self-control and the virgins were purified. The bold became meek. There was one appearance for all, and one arrangement: the king and the slave both went barefoot. There was the same humble bread for both the rich and the poor and there was one equal drink for masters and slaves. For they all walked under one yoke of repentance, so that they might receive the mercies of God. They worked on one homogenous project, so that they might be treated with one remittance from God.

44. The city was as a reed blown by the wind, and like a sparrow sitting on a thorn. At dawn they did not consider that the end of the day would appear to them. The whole city stood at the mouth of death, and its cry shook the gates of Hades. Jonah was numbering the days and nights and the Ninevites numbered their own sins, Jonah was sitting in his hut praying in truth and the Ninevites were begging that they not die. Jonah saw their tears and became afraid when he saw the coming together in the city. He had the gourd plant, which he did not plant, but he was protected from the heat of the day. The hut of Jonah dried up from below, while the right hand of the Most High shaded the Ninevites.

45. He saw them, trembling as water before God. He saw infants fasting while calling out loud. He saw toddlers crying and oxen and sheep braying. He saw the compassion of mothers rent asunder, supplicating the Most High. He saw elders crying aloud and fleeing to God while the elders of Israel were always apostasizing. Again he saw Nineveh repenting exceedingly and Zion going furiously towards idolatry. Nineveh, in repentance saw how the sentence was increasing against the altogether seditious Jerusalem. Jonah saw the self-controlled prostitutes of Nineveh and the wildly fornicating daughters of Jacob. He saw the liars in Nineveh speaking the truth and the saw the false prophets in Zion always full of deceit.

46. In Nineveh they cast down, publically, the idols while in Jerusalem they secretly worshipped them. Jonah took a worthy trial from the nations, since the priest of idols welcomed Moses, and the widow did as well to Elijah, and the heathens did for David when Saul, the King of Israel, was pursuing him. He saw the assembly of Nineveh come together and he was anxious that his proclamation might prove to be false. The Temple of God in Jerusalem was made by the Jews into a den of robbers, while the King of Nineveh worshipped the Lord! The living bewailed the dead and the Ninevites bewailed the living. All of them were cut off from their children and from their families, a great and terrible mourning took hold there and all the living ones thought they would soon descend into the earth. For as their days became numbered fewer and fewer, their tears abounded more and more since soon they would be no more.

47. The day was arriving when the city should have been overthrown if they did not repent and the city was full of wailing. The dust of the earth was soaked as the tumult of tears became a torrent from all the people crying bitterly. Fathers stood up their children so that they could also cry out bitterly about their death. They bemoaned the brides and bridegrooms in their midst. Fathers looked on the beauty of their children as the darkness of much evil fell upon them. At the end they thought the earth was shaking and they lifted up their voices in screams to the heavens. Old men and women went out amongst the graves wailing since the ones who would bury and the ones who would be buried were not among them. Each saw before their eyes bitter death and let out a groan, knowing the sort of death that awaited them.

48. They rent their hearts, hearing that the earth was freezing. They were utterly stopped as they thought of what kind of end they were about to receive. The images of all of their faces were struck, knowing that the earth was about to crack open under them. The king wore sackcloth and stood in tears as he considered that there was no tomorrow. All grabbed the dust and prayed to God. In their prayers their mouths were full of ash, all called to their friends so that they might see them and be full of their presence before they went down into Hades.

49. With the days all filled up, they stood in one heart on the threshold of death. They grasped one another’s hands and wept bitterly for each other. The last night was upon them and they thought about in which hour the voice of destruction was going to come. They considered that in the evening the city would fall, but the evening came and altogether nothing had happened. Again they thought that during the night it would be swallowed up and destroyed. But then night came and they were not given over into destruction. In the darkness they thought they had been handed over for the end, but the darkness passed away and they had suffered nothing. In the dawn they thought the city would have been overthrown, but the dawn came and magnified their hopes. In the hour in which they thought that they would not exist, in that hour their joy was fulfilled. They rejoiced together with their friends and neighbors and they glorified God who had had mercy on them.

50. Jonah stood far off, watching and fearing that he might be shown a liar. And in the hour in which he hoped the city would fall, it was ransomed from death. For the benevolent God saw their tears and was moved by them. For although they did not die, they had anticipated dying because of the promise of an evil death. So it was as if they had died, but although dead had not been buried. The fear of the terrible things passed away from the living. The threat of terrible things hoped to lay waste to them since they were going about as a shadow.

51. But these things Jonah did not take to heart and seeing all the things about himself he wanted to die. God had mercy on them since they were melted by fear and the dead city was brought back to life. Then all, at the same time, were rejoicing that they had the best hopes, since they saw wrath transformed into mercy. They bent their knees in prayer and spread out their hands, giving thanks to God who saved them from the sentence of death and who granted them life in his mercy.

52. Jonah saw that he appeared to be a liar with the Ninevites saved and he became exceedingly bitter. The men of Nineveh began to call and flatter him, saying “Do not be sad, O Jonah, but rejoice, since we have found new life through you! For through you we now know the God of everything. Do not fear, you did not lie, for all of our evil was overturned and our faith lifted up. In your hand we found the supplies for repentance which we received from the storehouses of God. Tell us, Jonah, what would have been your profit if our city had fallen and we had all died? What would you have gained, son of Amath, if we had gone down into Hades? Why are you sad, after having cured us of our wickedness? The multitude gives thanks to you even more as a doer of good! Why then do you moan since you have succeeded in turning our city not over into corruption, but into the knowledge of God? Why also do you mourn over those who were saved through repentance? Rather, be crowned! Let this thing that has happened gladden you! For you gladden angels in the highest! You should be glorified on earth in him, since God rejoices with the angels in heaven at us. Let your mind exult exceedingly in this, that all people give reverence to God. Console yourself since the whole city with its king prays in joy with you. See the infants saved from death, repent and pray for their lives! Also see the toddlers protected and put your hands on their heads. Praise the city which was saved against all hope so that your memory be magnified in it. Drive away your mourning and stop your fasting and rejoice with us, O Prophet of God!”

53. These things, and things greater than these, the Ninevites spoke to him so that he might stop his untimely sadness. For this one was sitting outside of the city and the whole city went out to him and they saw an awful sight: Jonah standing, speaking, and replying with his own mouth. They heard Jonah, how he was judged by God and how he was answered by the face of God. For the Holy Spirit, which had answered by his mouth was also speaking through it. It seemed in him that there were two faces, one of God and one of the Prophet, speaking at the same time. The whole multitude heard him conducting a lawsuit in himself over the gourd plant, and also over himself and the Lord and the city. For his tongue was saying two things - he spoke to God and God answered through him. O horrible court! O how his tongue advocated for two things, for God and himself!

54. The group stood and listened how Jonah appealed to God in his own speech, arguing these things: “O Lord, why have you altogether afflicted me thus and why do you give me up and show me a liar? For a while I had a small gourd plant to shield me from the heat, but now this has dried up and now you are roasting me with the heat. Therefore I ask for death. Take my soul, for I am exceedingly grieved with regret over the gourd plant.

55. Immediately, the All-Holy Spirit answered from his mouth and condemned him with his own tongue. It fought with him and his mouth dishonored the judgment of God. The multitude of the city heard from the mouth of Jonah how God spoke on behalf of the city in reply to him. “You,” he said, “are grieved over the gourd plant, for which you did no labor, nor indeed did you make it grow, which grew up in one day and in the same time withered. How much more should I have mercy over my own city? I now give to you a type of the whole living city in the gourd plant which withered. The gourd plant now will become a teacher for you, and learn from it wisdom and consideration. In the pitiful gourd plant learn how much greater is the compassion of God. You would spare the gourd plant, and I the city. You seek a pitiful shelter and would laugh at the city. Where is your justice, Jonah? Why do you prefer the gourd plant over the city? You show compassion over a pitiful plant, Jonah, and upon the city great severity. Thus the thing which is given and eaten as food is more magnified in your eyes than the ones who would eat? You prefer the perishable thing over the repenting people and you extol plants over reasoning human beings!”

56. The Ninevites heard all of these things and, as from one mouth, gave glory to God since he was pleading on behalf of them, the maker for the made, the creator for the creation, the master for the slave against the tongue of Jonah, the one that had been given to them to judge them towards justice. Unwillingly Jonah had glorified them and pushed them to achieve victory. In justice the Just One judged rightly.

57. God chose, through his many mercies, to call out the threat in his own voice so that the city might be saved. And Jonah passionately contended with God so that he might convert the city and he himself not be proven a liar. The whole multitude rejoiced in hearing these things and seeing Jonah overcome by God. They knew how God encouraged him and they wanted to magnify his honor. So they seized him by his arms and just as the king enters into a city he entered and was seated. All the ones who had repented gathered to him and into a city he entered and was seated. All the ones who had repented gathered to him and paid him homage, bearing gifts to him and their tithes and brought him whatever they had promised in their afflictions. The king opened to him his storehouses and bore to him gifts of all glorious things.

58. At last Jonah was glorified by the mouth of all and he went up and sat in the kingly chariot. A sea monster had borne Jonah in the sea, but upon earth, in the city of Nineveh, the king and the whole people glorified him. Fish in the sea encircled him, and during his return to Jerusalem the king of Nineveh sent out ambassadors so that they could prepare for him completely the road. God sent fish to prepare the road where he would go, and the king showed the road to the prophet. He went up in glory with the king as his escort. The ones who met him cowered from fear of the prophet and the whole city esteemed him. The ones who met him were afraid, knowing the things that happened in Nineveh, how he did not destroy them.

59. When he drew near to the mountains of Jerusalem, he told the ones with him that they should return. For he was ashamed lest they enter there and see the Hellenism and great impiety and the pious ones who had repented to God learn from the Jerusalemites how to service idols again. He was afraid lest again the wound that he had closed up and healed for them come to the surface. Jonah again returned thanks to the ones who came with him and he saluted them with emotion and blessed them. He gave them a signal that they should return, but they did not hear what he said. They said to him these sort of things and greater, “Do not send us away from you, O Prophet, and go with yourself alone to enter into the land of Israel. We would learn from it their virtues and standards, their good deeds and their uprightness, their examples, their words and their manners. Let us go in and see the land in which Hellenism has not completely taken hold, but faith and correctness are still there. Allow us to see the good root from which you grew. We exhort you, O Prophet, instead of the wage which you would have paid us for conveying you, you allow us to go up with you.”

60. While they were saying these things, Jonah laid his head on the earth, knowing what scheme could get them to return. He was exceedingly ashamed of the sons of Israel because they were evil and impious. This was worse to him than the matter of the gourd plant, so that his soul asked for death. The prophet began to make excuses and said to the people contrivances that were not true. “Now there is a great feast in our land and foreigners are not allowed to enter. For although you are faithful you are not able to go to the feast of God because you are uncircumcised. Therefore, return in joy and peace into your fatherland to the one who sent you and when the feast of God has passed, return here again.”

61. And at these words they became very grieved and all of them cried out and embraced him. Finally they turned back with much sadness after hearing the word of Jonah the prophet. After they left the prophet Jonah, while they were still in the area, they saw an extremely high mountain and they thought on this. They ascended it so that they could see the Promised Land from the top. When they came to the summit of the mountain they saw the whole land and immediately were very astounded seeing the people sacrificing offerings to demons and giving drink-offerings in groves and carving altars and idols in front of the doors. The one entering and exiting these places gave homage and did obeisance before the images. Another sacrificed a bull, another brought wine for a demon. And what more is there to say? For there they saw the whole maniacal work of Satan.

62. So they began to say, “Are we not seeing a dream? Do we look on the land of Israel as Sodom? Is this the seed of Abraham, or perhaps demons are making the image for us? Is the great impiety which was done in our fatherland now encamped here? There we tore down the idols with zeal, here are they restored? Not only these things but everywhere in this place are idols the likes of which not even we made! In our fatherland there is not worship of the snake, yet these ones worship the snake as if they were serpents themselves! In our fatherland we sacrifice animals, these ones slaughter their sons and their daughters. But as when they received the law of God through Moses, as Jonah told us, they made and traded graven images. Let us get up and flee from this evil people, lest we become caught up in their deeds. For instead of Nineveh, which was not overthrown, soon the land of Israel is about to be overthrown itself.” As they said these things they were greatly afraid and returned to their fatherland, glorifying God.

63. Now let us ourselves glorify God, who gives us a type and pledge through the Ninevites. As he saved them through Jonah, now he saves forever his people through his only begotten son. And he made the people useless, as when he spoke to the fruitless fig tree, the one which prevented the Gentiles from being saved by the fruit of repentance. In Christ Jesus, our Lord, to whom be the glory and the strength, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and always, forever and ever, Amen.

From The Biblical Homilies of Ephraem Graecus by Trevor Fiske Crowell.