One of my favorite people to read about in the Bible is Jonah. That may sound strange because what most of us know about him deals with the whole whale of an incident. But that is only one small blip in his life. It’s interesting to say that smelling fish guts for a few days while God puts you in time out is a blip. But when we consider the scope of his life, we really know very little. What we do know of Jonah reminds me of his humanity.
We often think of Jonah as the disobedient one. We think of him as the runner – the run as far and fast as you can from what God wants you to do kind of guy. We think of him as the one that God had to teach a lesson. That may all be true, but that misses what Jonah was running from, what he was called to do, and what he never really wanted to do. It misses that Jonah was given this mission he didn’t really want, he didn’t really believe in, and he never fully accepted. It wasn’t because he was a horrible guy. God used him in a mighty way. He may have been one the worst speakers but God had a plan for him. Jonah didn’t like the plan and God still used him. I think it was because Jonah had some redemptive qualities that God saw. Jonah had potential that even he didn’t recognize. And the lesson I learn from Jonah is one that leads and guides so much of my life.
Where we will join Jonah in his story this morning is after the most famous and known part of his journey. He has already been called by God to go to these particular people that he did not want to help. He has run the other way, jumped a ship, thrown overboard, spent time with the fish, and found himself on the shore. What a ride. But that isn’t the end. He does go to the people of Nineveh – though more than reluctantly. God gave him another chance to do the right thing (and maybe God gives him a swift kick to get it done). So he does it, in what seems to be a half-hearted attempt. And God used it. God used the seemingly pitiful message. The people of Nineveh heard it, took it to heart, and changed. They repented. They heard that God cared about them and destruction was coming – they listened. Even the King got the message and made a decree – everyone would be in on this. They would change their ways. Great news, right?! Yes, for everyone but Jonah.
3:10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
4:1 But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry.
4:2 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.
4:3 And now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
4:4 And the LORD said, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
4:5 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.
4:6 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.
4:7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered.
4:8 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.”
4:9 But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.”
4:10 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.
4:11 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?”
Don’t miss this. God saved the people and the land of Nineveh. The proclamation of Jonah was heard. He did what he was sent to do and the people heard it and changed. God did not bring the destruction he had planned. They were saved. That should be reason to celebrate. But Jonah was angry. Yes, you heard that correctly – Jonah was angry. He was angry with God. He basically tells God that he knew this would happen. God is too kind and merciful and loving. He just knew God wouldn’t destroy them and that’s why he didn’t want to do this in the first place. How dare God be so loving and kind!
I have to pause there. This is something we do not always hear and if we do, we are ready to cast judgment on Jonah. How dare he act like this! How could he make such a call on those people! Who does he think he is! Yet, what we don’t always consider is who they were to Jonah. Nineveh is the enemy. They are the opposing force. Jonah wants them destroyed because Jonah has identified these people as his enemy. They have sought to destroy his people. How could God care about them? Jonah wanted to see God wipe them out – it seemed only right to him. He didn’t want to care about them and he didn’t want them saved.
That sounds selfish, but I wonder how many times that happens today. We decide who is the enemy and we want them destroyed. We certainly don’t see how God could love them. We don’t want to consider that God created them too and there is any potential in them. They are the “other” and we don’t see value in “those” people. They are the enemy. Yet, if we believe that God is creator of the entire world, there are more people God created than just us. There are more to love outside of our country. There are more valuable people outside of our realm of what we consider worthy. God actually loves the whole world – the whole entire world. And if that is true, that means he loves those we have decided aren’t worthy. It means those we don’t agree with. It means those who don’t look like us or talk like us or think like us. It means God has a plan which is good for all humankind. That could come as a shocker to some of us who feel like the privileged and favored few.
But the story doesn’t end there for Jonah. God decides to teach Jonah a lesson he can grasp. As he did with the big fish, he does with the plant. Jonah is miserable. He has gone to sulk. He wanted to see them destroyed. So he goes and sits down. God provides him shade. It is perfect. It is just what Jonah needed. It saves him for the day. The next day, the shade is eaten by bugs. And Jonah has to face the heat and wind without it. He is angry. God reminds him that Jonah cared about a shade he did not create, he did not do anything for – because it was protecting him. God tells him that there are people in Nineveh that do not understand and that need direction. God cares for them too. He has good things for them too.
God has so much more planned than we could ever imagine. He is using us for his good and loving plan. We don’t always like or understand the plan. We don’t understand how we are to love the enemy. But this is exactly what Jesus taught. We are to love those we consider unlovable and unworthy. God does not appoint us as judge. He does not give us the option to decide who is worthless or worthy. He sees children without direction. And he may just see that in us.
May God open our eyes to see others as he does. May we show love to all – even those we consider the “other”. May it begin today.