This week’s Old Testament reading is Jonah 3:10 – 4:11. In it, I see Jonah behaving much like we do in the 21st century. Jonah’s behavior reflects the painful fact that we all live in a fallen world. In this fallen world, we, like Jonah, often worry about our own well-being, our own treasures, the “fairness” of our lives.
In this week’s reading, after much “persuasion” by God, including a “detour” in the belly of the fish, Jonah finally follows God’s command and delivers God’s warning to the bustling, major city of Nineveh, that they have only 40 days to turn from their evil ways or their city will be overturned by God. After delivering God’s message to Nineveh, Jonah goes to place east of the city, builds a shelter and waits to watch the carnage he expected God to befall on Nineveh. Though Jonah had built a shelter, it was insufficient protection to the desert sun, so God, in his mercy, provided a vine which grew above the shelter, providing shade to Jonah. The following day, God allowed that same vine to wither, and remove the shade from Jonah.
So, back to Nineveh. What happens? What did Jonah observe? The Ninevites actually listened to Jonah, declared a fast and everyone in the kingdom, from the “greatest to the least”, humbled themselves before God. And because the Ninevites headed Jonah’s warning, God spared Nineveh its destruction.
You’d think this would please Jonah, right? Sadly, no. Since the Ninevites were Jonah’s arch enemy, he wasn’t pleased with God’s mercy. In fact, Jonah declares he is “angry enough to die”, because God caused the shade vine to wither, and, I think, because God showed mercy on the Ninevites.
I don’t know about you, but Jonah’s behavior reminds me of siblings, each wanting to be their parent’s “favorite”. It also reminds me a bit of the Prodigal Son. Such very human, un-God-like behavior.
Why must we, who live in this fallen world, keep track of God’s mercies? Why must we compete with one another, and behave as if God’s love and mercy is finite when clearly that is not the case?
It is not our job to judge God’s treatment and saving graces to other people. It was hypocritical of Jonah to accept God’s mercy to him (the growing of the shade vine) and not accept and rejoice in God’s mercy to the Ninevites. And I think we can all recall a time in our lives where we, like Jonah, lamented God’s mercy to an enemy, when we should have simply rejoiced in God’s mercy to us. I think we need to mind our own business. And not worry about God’s gifts to others. God has infinite love and kindness and mercy for this fallen world. Let’s rejoice in that!
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