by Chaplain Jim Corbett
Director of Pastoral Care
Walker Baptist Medical Center
In our story today we find a angry and reluctant prophet. At first Jonah tried to flee God's call to go to Nineveh by running off to Tarshish. God sent storms which caused the crew to throw him overboard realizing he was the cause. We all know the story of a fish (or a whale) swallowing Jonah until he repented and the fish spit him up on the beach. God again tells Jonah to go to Nineveh, this time Jonah goes and proclaims a short message "Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown" (Jonah 3:4 NRSV). Surprisingly; the King, the people, even the animals repented even though nothing was said about repentance in Jonah's words. They put on sackcloth and ashes, they fasted, they changed their ways, and they called on God in prayer.
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.
But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. 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 in 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. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live." And the Lord said, "Is it right for you to be angry?" -- Jonah 3:10-4:4 (NRSV)
Jonah went out to the east of the city and made a booth to see what would happen. God sent a bush to grow and provide shade for Jonah who "was very happy about the bush." Dawn the next day God sent a worm to attack the bush and it withered, the sun came up and the hot wind blew on Jonah. Now Jonah again gets furious wishing to die:
But God said to Jonah, "Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?" And he said, "Yes, angry enough to die." 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. 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. -- Jonah 4:9-11 (NRSV)
This story fascinates me; a prophet running from his task, swallowed by a fish, angry that God is merciful and gracious. Hate can make us forget that we are ambassadors of Christ participating in the reconciliation of the world to God. Who cares about Nineveh, or about any group of people? God does, and God's people should!
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.
-- 2 Corinthians 5:17-18 (NRSV)