There seems to be a bit of irony in the book of Jonah. In chapter 1, it is the pagan sailors, not Jonah, who show us what true fear of the Lord looks like. In chapter 3, the wicked, violent Ninevites believe God and turn from their sins after what may have been a very short message from a prophet with a checkered past. In our New Testament reading, Jesus points out the irony of the fact that the Jewish people, who saw themselves as more receptive to God’s Word than people like the Ninevites, do not believe Jesus and turn from their sins, even though Jesus is an infinitely more faithful and competent prophet than Jonah, which he will ultimately demonstrate by fulfilling the sign of Jonah in more miraculous way.
When rebellious Jonah is rescued from the sea by a giant fish, he confesses that salvation is of the Lord, implying that God delivers people from trouble as he pleases. As we study Jonah’s prayer more closely, we will find both encouragement and correction for our own prayers in the midst of distress, especially as we consider the One whose cry for help went unanswered for our sakes.
People often refer to themselves or others as “God-fearing,” perhaps without really thinking about what that means. Jonah 1 shows us what it means to truly fear the Lord, but the example doesn't come to us from the Israelite prophet, Jonah; it comes from a group of pagan sailors, who take seriously God's majesty, his mercy and his mission.