By LINDA M. LINONIS
Pastor Jason Cashel of Cross Point Bible Fellowship dove into the story of Jonah during an ecumenical community Lenten luncheon Wednesday in the fellowship hall of St. Vincent de Paul Church of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish.
The pastor led off the series of six luncheons planned Wednesdays through April 9. The events offer participants a light lunch, fellowship and a message from Scripture from various members of the clergy representing different denominations.
Pastor Cashel placed Jonah in history in the eighth century B.C. He is the central character in the Book of Jonah.
The speaker outlined Jonah’s task. God commanded Jonah to journey to Nineveh, where the inhabitants were evil. “Jonah felt the presence of the Lord,” Pastor Cashel said, adding Jonah doesn’t like his assignment.
The reluctant prophet tries to escape and boards a ship headed to Tarshish. But God intervenes and sends a storm that makes the experienced sailors afraid. They try to assign blame and put it on Jonah and throw him overboard. “He’s swallowed by a big fish and is in the belly for three days,” Pastor Cashel said. “God humbles Jonah,” the pastor said.
After Jonah prays day and night, God has the fish expel him. Then Jonah travels to Nineveh, where he warns the residents of God’s displeasure. “The city repents but Jonah is angry,” Pastor Cashel said. “Jonah tells God he didn’t want him to show mercy; he wanted the city destroyed.” (Nineveh was an enemy to Israel.)
“God showed mercy and grace in ways we wouldn’t,” the pastor said. “Against the backdrop of God’s grace, humans have so little grace with others.”
God tells Jonah that he has pity on the people of Nineveh as he would have pity on Jonah. “God used Jonah to show his loving, gracious hand,” Pastor Cashel said.
“God worked through the disobedient prophet,” he contionued. “We see God pursuing Jonah.”
Pastor Cashel speculated that when Jonah was in the belly of the fish, he believed he would drown and die. “He realized the hardness of his own heart,” he said. “The fish is the instrument of salvation” in this story.
Pastor Cashel emphasized that “God’s love isn’t passive. It’s a love that takes action.”
The pastor said the greatest example of God’s love was “sending Christ to us.” “God sent his son as a rescue agent,” he said.
God’s love for us, Pastor Cashel said, should be our reminder to show love and forgiveness. “That’s an obedience to God not out of duty but joy from the heart moved to action by God’s love for us,” he said.
The Rev. Frank Zanni, pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish, said the Lenten luncheons are in the fourth year. “It promotes faith sharing,” he said.
Clergy from the ministerium involving Vienna-area churches participate.
“People like to hear the different perspectives,” he said. He added that feedback he has gotten notes that participants like hearing a “female perspective” from the women who are Protestant ministers.
About 80 people attended the first gathering; Father Zanni said that usually increases as the luncheons progress.
In fact, he said, the luncheons started out in two classroom in the hall and had to be moved to the fellowship hall to accommodate the crowd.
Dee Pagach of Vienna, a member of the parish, said she attended last year and enjoyed the messages.
Stan and Ann Glink, also parish members, added they’ve been coming three years. “It’s interesting to hear other perspectives,” he said. “You hear how another denomination interprets the Bible,” she said, adding the events are a way to learn a bit about other faiths.
Michele Garman, a Vienna resident, also attends and said the luncheons “create a good feeling in the community.”
Mary Swift of Vienna and a member of Vienna Presbyteria Church said she’s attended for three years. “It’s a nice way to meet people and talk to them,” she said.
Virginia Crumb, religious education coordinator, said St. Thomas’ parish council and staff, Knights of Columbus, women’s guild and religious education department along with the Methodist women provide the homemade lunches.