The Book of the Twelve for Lent 2016
Jonah and the Grinch – Jonah (2)
The story of Jonah commences with little fanfare. We jump right into the action with the Word of the Lord commanding Jonah to “at once” to the great city Nineveh and proclaim God’s judgment against it. And they certainly deserved it!
Yet this prophet among all we have or will encounter in the Twelve resists this divine summons to the uttermost. Jonah is not prepared to give in easily, indeed, at all. This is a job he does not want and will not do, even for God.
That surely understandable, isn’t it? Perhaps it’s an unwanted interruption of Jonah’s life (even though we don’t know what he did for a living). Or the trip was too long. Or maybe it was the danger involved. To go into a pagan capital and announce their doom was not likely to be well received. And if the leader of Nineveh heard of it, and got up on the wrong side of the bed that morning, it could be mortally dangerous for the prophet.
However all that may be, Jonah himself tell us why in ch.4 in a prayer to God after he has finally done the deed and unexpectedly the whole city repents! “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.”
Jonah knows his theology. He’s got that wonderful self-definition God gave Moses in Exodus 34 down (underlined above). That’s not the problem. Rather the problem seems to be that Jonah’s heart was like that of the Grinch who stole Christmas – several sizes to small!
He knew God well enough to now that his bark was often worse than his bite. We meet that word “relent” again that we’ve seen several times before now in the Twelve (sort of becoming a theme, huh?).
-Maybe Jonah was a “law and order” type who believed everyone should get just what they deserved. But he was afraid that God might have an attack of mercy and not lower the boom on Nineveh.
-Or maybe he was a religious exclusivist who belonged to God’s chosen people and looked down on the pagan world for their sin and folly.
-Certainly he is concerned for God’s and his own reputations if he goes to deliver a prophecy in God’s name that does not come true!
-Or maybe Jonah was spiritually immature and his involvement in this whole business is precisely for him to wrestle with his God and his predilection for “relenting” (his mercy) so that even in the face of irritation and interruption, fear and danger, a God he can’t predict or control, loss of reputation, in order that his heart may grow to fit the size of the God with whom he has to do!
Fallen people like us have Grinch-like hearts, even the best of us. None of our hearts are quite big enough to enable us to reflect the love and compassion of God for all his creatures, especially those who are different, unknown, and scary to us. Even those we know and live with test our smallish hearts as well.
Lent is a time when we lay ourselves open before this same God and ask him to “tear the cover off our hearts” (Hosea) so they may grow to their proper size.
-Then we will more easily find our way to praising God for his boundless mercy (unlike Jonah who can only fret and regret this).
-Then we will learn that our nation’s enemies are not our enemies and we may pray and care for them with genuine good will as opportunity presents itself.
-Then we can do the hard work of reconciling with those we know and live with whom we have offended or have offended us seeking to break open the patterns and habits which have embodied our resentment or lack of forgiveness and kept our hearts too small.
-Then we will be open to hear and heed God’s call to us, whatever it may be, in confidence that the only thing that really matters in life is doing “at once” what he asks.