Friday, 24 April 2009


"But the Lord said, 'You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?'" (Jonah 4:10-11).

God has the final say in the book of Jonah.

Jonah sulks next to the withered remains of a lush vine. The sun is hot. A scorching east wind buffets him. There is no air conditioning. No comfortable sofa to sit on. And Jonah doesn't like the drama playing out in front of him, but he can't change the channel. All he can do is listen to God's voice-over commentary.

Jonah believes he has rights. He has a right to some comfort. He has a right to that vine even though he didn't plant it or water it or fertilize it.

God believes the people of Nineveh have rights. They have a right to know that God is angry with them and has judged their wicked behavior. They also have a right to know that if they repent, God offers them grace. Nineveh has a right to know the way of salvation.

But Nineveh can never know of their rights unless Jonah gives up his right to live his own life in his own way.

So whose rights prevail? Jonah can go to the nursery and select another tree to plant for his shade and comfort. But if the Ninevites don't hear God's message, what hope do they have? They are lost!

It's a matter of perspective, and Jonah definitely has the wrong perspective. So God sets him straight.

I think also God desires for Jonah to feel just a little of what God feels for this city. God has compassion for Nineveh. For people who don't know their right hand from their left. Is he talking about the children? Or the mental and physical limitations of Ninevites? Or simply ignorant people? Jonah never asks.

God also has compassion for the animals. They are part of His creation. It was God who told Israel not to muzzle an ox while it is working, which produced Paul's statement, "Does God take care of the oxen?" (I Corinthians 9:9). Jonah, if you don't care for the people, shouldn't you at least care what happens to the animals?

When God stops speaking, Jonah has nothing to say. The book is finished. We are left to wonder about Jonah's reply. Nothing? Is Jonah listening? Is he rebuked and prepared to change his attitude? Or will he sit and continue to pout? Or perhaps he will run away again, turn his back on Nineveh, never pray for them, never follow-up on them to find out if their repentance led to a long-term transformation.

The choice is Jonah's.

The choice is ours.

Today we are left to wonder if we, God's people, will have any compassion for a lost world.

1 comment:

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

Excellent post, brother!

The story of Jonah is read during the morning service of Holy Saturday before Easter Sunday in the Orthodox Church. I always look forward to hearing it, even though I read the book on my own periodically.

It's always been seen as a challenge to the people of God to testify of Christ's love to a fallen world. The image of Jonah asleep in the hold of the ship during the storm at sea has been seen as a metaphor for the "sleeping Church". Sometimes I wonder if the world does what it must when it throws us overboard to calm the sea, speaking again metaphorically.

The Church, I have heard it said, is only really the Church when it is suffering. I have to say that I agree with that idea. The letters to the seven churches of Asia in the book of Revelation also seem to bear this out.

Anyway, brother, as we continue to sojourn in the Easter season during these forty days, I salute you and yours with, "Christ is risen!" God grant you all the light of His resurrection now and always.