At least to me, one of the more reassuring proofs of the presence of The Word in the word, the Scriptures, is that in no way human nature is sugar-coated. In its pages, the portrait of humanity is unambiguous. We will find ourselves in one and in a hundred of its pages, with warts and all.
In our lesson for today we find Jonah, who after his submarine adventure is instructed again to warn the people of Nineveh about the impending calamity. Under duress, Jonah follows the instructions, still mumbling and grumbling about his task. And precisely as Jonah feared, the Ninevites repent of their ways, and God shows them mercy.
Rather than celebrating, Jonah still fumes. Until God, eventually, challenges Jonah with a far-reaching question – “Is it right for you to be angry?” Of course, God is not only pointing out to Jonah’s frustration at the passing nature of his shady spot but to the deep anger boiling in his heart – “Why are you angry at me for having mercy on the Ninevites?”
But what gives? Wasn’t Jonah entitled to be angry? For starters, the Assyrian empire was not only Israel’s sworn enemy, but they were “very good” at being wicked, notoriously cruel, and ruthless. Then, why they were getting mercy rather than the smack that they surely deserved? Of course, Jonah had every right to be upset! Or so he thought. And so, we do.
God, however, has a question and an answer for us, “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23) “I tell you, said Jesus, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). And in our gospel the Landowner asks, “Why are you looking at me in such a way,” (Literally, as in the KJV, “with an evil eye,” V. 20)?
Perhaps – so far — you may have not felt inclined to associate yourself with Jonah or the laborers in their plight. But here is the thing – “Why we crave punishment for the lost and broken, instead of healing and hope. Why we happily grab every second chance God gives us, even as we deny second chances to others. Why we nurse envy and bitterness in our hearts, refusing to see the complexity God sees in the faces of those who wish us harm. Do we have a right to be angry? God leaves us to decide.” (Debi Thomas, in “A Troubling Generosity.”)
But here is the good news. No matter how we feel about God’s goodness and wisdom, still He loves us. “I’ve never quit loving you and never will. Expect love, love, and more love! And so now I’ll start over with you and build you up again,” (Jeremiah 31:3, The Message). That was God’s promise to His people and yes, to you and to me.
Of course the Father of Lies will suggest that you do not deserve God’s favor because you fail time and again, and will try to instill in you doubts – or reasons – against God genuine and eternal love for you. Now, who are you going to believe, him or your Father in Heaven, blessed be His name!
And, as we affirm ourselves more and more in God’s unchanging goodness, in time, rather than questioning God like Jonah, we will be interceding for those who need to hear more about God’s unfailing love, grace, and mercy.
Good Lord, in your eternal goodness, you continue pulling us towards You with cords of kindness and love. Helps us to be gentle and humble to follow the pulling of your Spirit working in us and help us to become instruments of your saving grace and mercy to those in dire need of hearing about your eternal love. Amen.