“Gracious & Compassionate”
4 But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. 2 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. 3 And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4 And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” 5 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.
6 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. 7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. 8 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.”
9 But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” 10 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. 11 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?”
This morning we continue with the series “Faces of Our Faith,” as we turn to the book of Jonah…and yes, unlike the past 2 Sunday’s this passage focuses on Jonah, the main character in the book but more importantly it reveals to Jonah a new revelation about God. The book of Jonah is very brief, spanning just 4 chapters. Even though brief, a lot happens to Jonah leading up to our scripture passage in chapter 4. So we need to go back to the very first chapter when God asked Jonah to go to Nineveh to preach to the people about their sins. God has not given up on the people of Nineveh even though they have strayed from God. Jonah is to prophesy to the people about their pending doom and destruction if they don’t change their ways. God called them “wicked!” I think most of you will remember what comes next, it is the story most remembered when the name Jonah is mentioned. Jonah doesn’t want to do what God asked him to do, he didn’t want to go to Nineveh, so he fled… going in the opposite direction. God’s power over the waters led to Jonah being thrown overboard and resulted in him living in the belly of a whale. Jonah learned much about God in this dark, lonely time. Learning about the power and desire, Jonah when back on dry land reluctantly, went to Nineveh to preach as the Lord had instructed him. Now to Jonah’s dismay, the people of Nineveh, including the King after hearing the prophesy of God’s vengeance against Nineveh, changed their ways and turned their hearts to God. They repented and God heard them and forgave them. All of this happened in the first 3 chapters and now at the end of chapter 3 we hear these words, “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, God had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.”
Jonah is an angry man! The question before us is why? Why is he angry? First God shows compassion on the people of Nineveh and spares them their lives because they listened to Jonah, I would think Jonah would be pleased, maybe thankful that he made a difference, he changed people’s lives serving as a prophet, a messenger from God. Then there is the bush thing, the Lord brought into being that provided shade for Jonah who was sitting in the outskirts of the town. But the bush withered, and Jonah again becomes angry. His behavior begs the question, “why?” It takes a history lesson to answer that question. You see Nineveh was a known enemy of Israel. The people of Nineveh did not have a very good reputation. They were known to be ruthless and evil. Jonah wanted the city to be destroyed. He wanted them to experience the wrath of God. But instead, God is gracious and compassionate toward them…God forgives them! But Jonah already knew God was gracious and compassionate. If we go back in the book of Jonah to the 2nd chapter when Jonah is in the belly of the whale he says a prayer, “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry…” You see Jonah experienced first-hand God’s grace and compassion. When Jonah turned away from God, ran away…God saved him, forgave him, and set him on the right path again.
What I find interesting here is that Jonah in his own defiance, his own refusal to follow God’s will, found God’s compassion, giving him life instead of death. Yet, Jonah cannot accept the same grace and compassion being given to a city of Nineveh, perhaps one of the largest cities in the whole region with more than 120,000 people!
I think Jonah is not that much different than you and me. We call out to God to help us, to forgive us to help us change our ways and yet we don’t necessarily appreciate it when God shows the same grace and compassion to those who we might call our enemies. We forget God is not our personal wish granter…we forget God is not there to satisfy just our own needs, to work in our lives so everything works out the way we want it to. Jonah remembered this very thing when he thought he was about to die. When the waters surrounded him in the darkness within the whale. At that moment when he was thinking it just might all be over, and he deserved the doom that he was facing, Jonah prayed, “As my life was ebbing away, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. Those who worship vain idols forsake their true loyalty. But I, with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Deliverance belongs to the Lord!” The grace and compassion of God became real to Jonah in that moment.
The God we worship, the God we pray to, the God who walks with us throughout our life is the same God that Jonah experienced. God remains constant, filled with grace and compassion for all of us. It is a grace and compassion that is not limited to just our friends, and neighbors, the people we like and care for. God’s grace and compassion is born out of God’s great love for all humankind.
Perhaps there are times when you think you have strayed too far away from God, perhaps you feel at times that God could never, never forgive the mistakes you have make, the poor decisions that have resulted in disaster. Maybe there is a part of you that is stubborn and resisting God’s call in your life. Maybe you feel like you’re in the dark, lonely in the belly of a whale and you don’t know the way out. At any or all these times remember Jonah! And in remembering Jonah, remember that we believe in a God who is filled with grace and compassion. A perfect love that we know and see in Christ Jesus our Lord! Amen