Monday, October 12, 2009

Jonah And The Worm

When we left Jonah on Thursday, he had God's question ringing in his ears: 'Do you do well to be angry?' Friday turned out to be busier than anticipated, with two sermons being written (see previous posts), so it's now time to finish our study of Jonah as we watch God teach him a lesson.

Jonah, you remember, was angry because God had forgiven the people of Nineveh, after their wholesale repentance at the preaching of Jonah. He doesn't seem glad that people have been saved from wrath, given a second chance, allowed a new start, and given life instead of judgement. Is Jonah right to feel this way?

God has challenged him, and continues to challenge him as the rest of the book unfolds. Jonah heads out to become an Eastender - he sits to the east of the city, in a grandstand seat, a front row view of what will happen. Even at this point, it seems that he's making himself comfortable for the thunderbolt and firestrike to come with the wrath of the Almighty. He wants to see what would become of the city. I fear it wasn't in a good way!

As he sits, the LORD is gracious towards him, and appoints a plant to grow up and be a shade for him in the hot sun. Once again, the LORD makes appointments, and his creatures fulfill his will (earlier, it was the great fish, later it will be the worm and the wind). Jonah is, as you would imagine, 'exceedingly glad because of the plant.' (4:6).

However, his gladness is turned to anger when God's next two appointments are fulfilled: A worm attacks the plant so it withers, and a scorching east wind from the desert, combined with the sun makes the conditions hard to bear for Jonah. Probably facing sunstroke, he is faint, and asks God that he might die. Better to die than live in this, he imagines. His anger is up again, and the whole world seems against him.

Once again, God's question comes to him: 'Do you do well to be angry for the plant?' Jonah says that he is very angry, angry enough to die, because what was benefiting him has been taken away. The LORD responds, with the final word of the book, but a final word that remains unanswered, reserving for God the right to do as he wills, to have compassion on whom he will have compassion:

You pity the plant, for which you did not labour, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?

Your priorities are all wrong, Jonah. You care about the tiny, insignificant things, while 120,000 speed along on the road to hell. You care about these small things that you didn't even have anything to do; things that were signs of God's grace to you, yet you don't care about so many people and cattle who don't know your God as you do (or should). You may not have compassion, Jonah, but I do - God, our God, cares about the foreigners, the outsiders, the inbetweeners, the misfits, the immigrants.

Have we got the same priorities of care and compassion for the lost? Or are we concerned with our own petty projects and wishing sudden destruction on them and theirs?

Do you do well to not care?

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