Slow your breathing and become aware of the taking in and letting out of your breath. Focus on putting things aside so you will be open to what God is saying to you today.
Jonah 4:1-11 (NRSV)
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. And now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the LORD said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.
The LORD God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”
But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” Then the LORD said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”
As a child, I remember thinking characters in the Bible were always righteous, upstanding role models of how people should act. It took me a while to understand the complexity and depth of characters like David, Peter, and Paul, who don’t always model the right way to behave in certain situations. As a matter of fact, sometimes Bible stories speak to us by modeling wrong behavior. The conclusion of Jonah’s story fills me with disappointment in God’s prophet. Jonah seems to have been like many of the teenagers with whom I work, pitching a fit for not getting his way. However, I’m afraid I have also seen this childish tantrum take place in the lives of many mature Christians, including myself.
Through Jonah’s angry response to God we find out why he ran from God’s call in the first place: He knew God too well. Jonah knew that God is gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and “ready to relent from punishing,” yet Jonah did not want God to relent from punishing this particular group of people. Jonah wanted to claim God’s forgiveness and grace for himself, but not for those he did not like. I sense a similar tendency in the church today. We often speak with great thanks of the grace and forgiveness of our God when we are the ones being forgiven, but we hesitate to praise the same grace and forgiveness for the drug dealer, the sex offender, the murderer, the corporate executive, the corrupt politician, or any other number of people whom we love to hate. As we live our lives in this incredibly fragmented world, let us celebrate the love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness of God in the lives of all who sin and fall short of the glory of God, not just ourselves.
Almighty Forgiver of debts and Breaker of chains, we seek your presence today. We know the temptation of hoarding your grace and forgiveness for ourselves, but we also know the joy of celebration when a new sheep enters the fold. Help us to spread your good news willingly rather than cling to it as if by sharing it we might lose it ourselves. Convince us of the breadth and depth of your love that is larger than anything we can imagine. Show us the width of your fold and its open gate, that we might rejoice with our sisters and brothers in Christ who are able to join our community. We ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Go with God.