Monday Scripture - Jonah 4:1-3 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 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. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
Is it wrong of me to be relieved that Jonah resists God's insistence that Jonah forgives and be reconciled with the Assyrians?
After all, Jesus makes it very clear that mercy and forgiveness are THE core value and practice of those who dare to follow as his disciples. His insistence is repetitious. He begins with 'forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,' when he teaches us to pray. He moves on, relentlessly with the reminder that we should love our enemies and pray for them. Then he goes so far as to suggest that when someone strikes us on one cheek, that we turn the other as well. It is all presented to us without acknowledgment of the challenge and risk of being that forgiving. And that is something I have always struggled with.
So when Jonah resists by running, grumbles through the mission he is called to and voices his displeasure when Ninevah repents and God is merciful, I am relieved. Sometimes it feels as if Jesus think's forgiveness and reconciliation are easy. How are we to live up to the example of a man who can hang from a cross and ask God to forgive the Romans who drove the nails in his hands? But Jonah. This is a character I can identify with. Miroslav Volf reminds ' whenever the miracle of forgiveness happens, it is a miracle of grace.' In the story of Jonah, that is very apparent. It will be a miracle for Jonah because it is counterintuitive for us to believe that mercy and forgiveness will lead us to reconciliation and security. This frees us from the expectation that forgiving will be an easy or natural response. It is, supernatural, a call from beyond. Like the call to Abraham it is a leap into darkness, a step on a path that is unknown, untested and risky. So I need not beat myself up with guilt and shame when mercy and forgiveness are not my first response and reconciliation, not my highest goal.
Having said all this, there is the unmistakable irony of the story of Jonah. When he was in the belly of the whale he cried out and God was merciful. Jonah himself lets us know that this whale belly represents more than the gastrointestinal system of a large sea creature. 'I cried to you from Sheol,' Jonah prays. From the place of death. So the belly of the whale represents that place where we feel abandoned, where doubts plague us. Even more, it represents that place where we have failed and feel unworthy. There is no future in Sheol. But Jonah calls out desperately and suddenly, there is a future for him again. Which is surely meant to remind us that in those moments when we not only felt lost or alone or abandoned but when we felt worthless in our failure, God still loved us. This is the great good news of the story. When we see no value in ourselves, God still believes in us. That is the challenge of the good news. If God has loved us this much, how dare we deny that kind of loving mercy to others?
Allow this story to shape you by prayerfully recalling the second chances God blessed you with. Remember the times you felt a failure, worthless, yet God's love intervened.
Go further spiritually by being Jonah. Consider who your Assyrian might be. Not only what person do you find it most difficult to forgive, but what group of people is a threatening other? Lift them up in your prayers as well. Finally, accept the risk of considering how you have been the Assyria. But do this with the gift of grace that when we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.