A painting of Jonah in the Sistine Chapel is directly above The Last Judgment. Michelangelo chooses to depict Jonah for his theological connection to Jesus, who said, “Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights” (Matthew 18:40).
Unlike Jesus, Jonah initially balks at Godʼs call until he grudgingly accepts and preaches to the city of Nineveh. In his rebellion, he gets in a boat and goes the opposite direction from where God was calling. Eventually he was thrown overboard and swallowed by the fish, seen painted at his side. After a three-night stomachache, the fish spewed Jonah up on the shore, back where he had started.
Jonah looks up to heaven with a weary longing, which might denote his melancholy personality. The fig tree further reinforces his weakness because it recalls the episode when Jonah lay under the fig tree in depression and lethargy.
Like Peter and Andrew, James and John, God entered Jonahʼs life and called him. Unlike the apostles, it took him a while to say yes. We can also be slow to respond to the invitation of God in our soul, whether in big or small things. Perhaps the attraction of the world or fear of sacrifice keeps us from saying yes. Yet his voice is constant and persistent.
Michelangelo paints Jonah dangling above The Last Judgment as if to subtly say, you are cordially invited to say yes to Godʼs patient callings…while you still have time.
—Fr. Mark Haydu, LC