I love the book of Jonah. Not just because it’s short and an “easy read”, but because I can TOTALLY relate to Jonah’s trepidation in bringing a message from God to a group of people living completely separated from God. Hmm…rings familiar for today as well.
In the book I referenced a few days ago; “the Radical Reformission” by Mark Driscoll, I just finished reading a chapter titled “Elvis in Eden” and it’s addressing the cultural impact on Christianity today. He writes about Jonah and his ultimate repentance.
Let’s reflect back, shall we. God commands Jonah to go to Nineveh, a place of financial wealth, but spiritual poverty. Nineveh had 100 foot walls that made the city feel even more invincible and protected.
We know that Jonah initially tried to hide and ended up being vomited up by a big fish. Jonah eventually went, though grudgingly, to Nineveh and gave the Reader’s Digest version of God’s word. It was enough. The city repented out of fear of the Lord. I always pictured Jonah making his ‘speech’, picking up his bag and walking away defeated as if nothing GREAT had happened. I pictured him guffawing as he passed the people repenting and prostrate before God. I pictured God shaking His head as he spied Jonah walking off in a huff searching for a place of rest beneath a shady tree.
Jonah even cried out to God in his angst “Didn't I say before I left home that you would do this, LORD? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you were a gracious and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. I knew how easily you could cancel your plans for destroying these people. Just kill me now, LORD! I'd rather be dead than alive because nothing I predicted is going to happen."
The Lord replied to Jonah (and this is where it gets good): "Is it right for you to be angry about this?"
Let’s just pick up the rest of the story here…
Then Jonah went out to the east side of the city and made a shelter to sit under as he waited to see if anything would happen to the city. And the LORD God arranged for a leafy plant to grow there, and soon it spread its broad leaves over Jonah's head, shading him from the sun. This eased some of his discomfort, and Jonah was very grateful for the plant.
But God also prepared a worm! The next morning at dawn the worm ate through the stem of the plant, so that it soon died and withered away. And as the sun grew hot, God sent a scorching east wind to blow on Jonah. The sun beat down on his head until he grew faint and wished to die. "Death is certainly better than this!" he exclaimed.
Then God said to Jonah, "Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?"
"Yes," Jonah retorted, "even angry enough to die!"
Then the LORD said, "You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. And a plant is only, at best, short lived. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn't I feel sorry for such a great city?"
Jonah was angry that God’s grace covered these ‘sinners’. God rebuked Jonah for loving a plant more than he loved the Ninevites. The author reminds us that “…sometimes we love the things God has given us--homes, cars, hobbies, health, friends--more than our great cities and the spiritually blind people who annoy us.”
The author surmises that because Jonah made the “book”, he must have reached a place of repentance. Additionally, the Jews gather in the synagogue each year on the Day of Atonement to read Jonah. They then state, “We are Jonah. We are all Jonah when we run from God’s call on our lives to bring the gospel to lost people, whom HE LOVES.”
I have to reflect on my own life and the “calling” God has placed on me. Do I respond or do I run…reflecting back to Tuesday, it’s apparent I try to run even from other Christians, how much more from people who make me uncomfortable and are not LIKE me.
I think back to debates I used to engage in with both Jehovah’s Witness-ers and any number of NON-Christians. Is my witness, my very life, enough for another person to see Jesus in me? Is my witness authentic? Am I willing to step outside the comfort of what I know into the culture of what I don’t know and don’t necessarily WANT to know?
There were so many times when God could have simply killed Jonah or just separated himself from Jonah, but he didn’t. God kept after Jonah, to the point of Jonah’s breaking and crumbling…to the point of his repentance? It gives me so much hope to know that while God could choose anyone in the whole world to do the things He’s called me to do…He continues to push me and push me to the point of breaking.
Help me today Father, to see all your children as YOU see them. Show me their faces before you.
Amen and Happy Wednesday!