Psalm 103: 8-12 (NRSV): The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us.
It is with some irony that I was reading a Max Lucado book titled No Wonder They Call Him the Savior as we began to consider the Book of Jonah for a worship and sermon series at Arcola Church. I enjoyed how connectional this reading was to the Jonah story, particularly as we contemplate Jonah’s anger toward God in chapter 4. I also found myself resonating a bit with Jonah while at the same time understanding more about who God is.
Jonah Chapter 4 finds Jonah angry with God because these Ninevites are clearly a sinful people not deserving of God’s mercy. In fact, Jonah quotes some of Psalm 13 saying, “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.” We all know those people in our lives who clearly do not deserve this kind of forgiveness and mercy, those who have hurt us or others by their words or actions. Having seen firsthand the sinful ways of the Ninevites, Jonah simply could not understand why God would have mercy on them.
Max Lucado shares in his writing that the Cross changes everything. In the crucifixion story, the intent of the people surrounding Jesus was to hurl hurtful words towards Jesus. This crowd of people intended to hurt Jesus and ultimately kill Jesus. Still, Jesus says, “forgive them father, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23: 34) God poses a question to Jonah with the final words of chapter 4, “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: 11) What a parallel to the crucifixion story!
I am sure Jonah felt the Ninevites had sinned so badly they did not deserve grace, thus the anger towards God. What does this mean for our own grudges and hurts? Do we show mercy so easily to others? It is certainly not easy to forgive or to show mercy when our hearts feel wronged and hurt, or when we witness others who are acting in hurtful ways.
I am very curious to know the end of the Jonah story with God’s direct question to Jonah. Did Jonah reconcile his feelings towards the Ninevites? Did Jonah let go and let God? Ah, maybe it is ME that is supposed to answer those questions for myself. Have I reconciled my negative feelings towards others? Have I chosen to let go and let God?
Prayer: Holy God, thank you for your forgiveness and mercy that is new every day. You shine your light of grace on me; so too you shine your light of grace and mercy on others. Grant us an awareness that although we may not understand all your ways, all your ways are good. It is no wonder that we call you The Savior. Hallelujah and Amen.