Sunday, November 6, 2011

Jonah, the rest of the story...

Today's lesson at church was from the book of Jonah. Now, many people know the Sunday school version of Jonah. God told him to go talk to the Ninevites. Jonah didn't want to so he got on a boat going the other way and fell asleep. Then God sent a storm to stop the boat, and all the people on the boat were scared. Eventually Jonah told them to throw him overboard, and after they did the storm stopped. Then a big fish swallowed Jonah up. He stayed trapped in the fish for 3 days, then after he called out to God the fish spit him out on dry land and he went to Nineveh.

That's where the story stops for most people, but that's not really the end of the story. That makes it seem like Jonah learned his lesson. The truth is, he didn't. Yes, he learned that running away from God lands you in the belly of a yucky fish, but it didn't turn him into an obedient man of God. See, Jonah had a chip on his shoulder. The reason he ran from his assignment in the first place wasn't because he was scared of the Ninevites and what they would do to him, he ran because he knew that God was a God of mercy and he was afraid that if the Ninevites heard the message he had to deliver they would repent and God would forgive them and spare his wrath. And that's what happened. As soon as they heard Jonah's message of doom they repented and humbled themselves before God. They were spared because they took God seriously and turned from the evil they were doing.

So now you'd think Jonah was glad that his message had been received and the people had turned to God. But no, Jonah tells God he's disappointed. He wanted to see the wrath of God poured out on this evil city, even if they repented. Then he goes up on a hill to pout. While he's looking down over the city the sun is beating down on him. God provides a plant that grows up and gives him some shade. Then God sends a worm to kill the plant and the shade is gone. Jonah is so upset over the loss of the plant that he says he wants to die. He cared more about the plant that he did nothing to cultivate than the thousands of people in Nineveh.

Talk about missing the big picture. Jonah had a chance to be part of something big. He had been given a second chance by God, but he didn't take advantage of it. He could have turned to God, helped the people of Nineveh, and been part of something big. Instead, his story ends on a hill, complaining about a dead leaf.

So, who are we going to be? Will it take something big like a smelly fish to get us to follow God? Are we more interested in our version of justice than God's plan? Do we care more about our own comfort than the lives of other people?

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