Tumbling in the Sand
“But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing…” Jonah 4:1-2
“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” Matthew 18: 35
I really like Jonah. For so, so many reasons, but in this text he just shines. He shines because of just how amazing his motivation was that lead him to run from God’s call to go and preach to the Ninevites. At the beginning of this short little story, you might think that Jonah was running because he was afraid of the Ninevites—they were, after all, known for not being very nice people. Nineveh was the capitol of the Assyrian Empire, the Empire that regularly terrorized the Israelite people and was known for particularly violent means of terrorizing their enemies (especially ones that ticked them off), such as impaling them and leaving them on poles as warnings to others …
But here we learn that the reason that Jonah ran was not because he was afraid of the Ninevites, or that he thought the message of judgement was too harsh or something—no, instead, Jonah didn’t want to go to prophecy to the Ninevites because he was worried they’d actually listen to him, repent, and then God wouldn’t give them what was coming to them (and what Jonah thought that they deserved). Jonah understood something about God’s grace that we so often don’t get: it’s entirely unfair. God doesn’t seem to care about who deserves God’s love and mercy and forgiveness and who doesn’t—God just gives it out. God just cares about absolutely everyone … including a whole lot of people populating an ancient city that still exists today and is found in Iraq. God’s grace is entirely unfair and gets poured out on even—especially—those who don’t deserve it.
We are certainly children of Jonah. At least I am. I have some very strong ideas about right and wrong and who should get what and whether someone deserves something or not. I kind of think that I am not alone—especially watching our collective response to murders and terrorists and people we deem as evil or worthless or, as I’ve heard people say “a waste of skin.” We think these people deserve punishment, deserve death, deserve retribution … and yet, God … well, God sends Jonah to tell them to change … sends us to mete out mercy (not judgement) … sends grace upon grace.
I can totally see sulking with Jonah underneath the withering vine. That is, until I think of all the ways that I fall short…of how many ways I do not live up to the good Samaritan, of how many ways that I cannot fully embrace God’s love, of how many ways I need God’s grace to be as expansive to me as it is to anyone else … but, still, there are days …
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” – Ephesians 2:8-10