Text: Jonah 4: 1-11
But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant[a] and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”
One of the top selling video game applications created for Apple’s Iphone is called “Pocket God.” Listen to the description given on Itunes: “What kind of god would you be? Benevolent or vengeful? Play Pocket God and discover the answer within yourself. On a remote island, you are the all-powerful god that rules over the primitive islanders. You can bring new life, and then take it away just as quickly.” Well the option is to be either benevolent god or to be the vengeful god. The benevolent act included giving the islanders a fishing rod. However, there are a plethora of things you can do as a vengeful God including “throwing islanders into volcanoes, using islanders as shark bait, bowling for islanders with a large rock, or creating earthquakes to destroy the islanders’ villages.”
Wow, isn’t it interesting that there is a game where you can be your own god? Actually that’s how most people live anyway isn’t it? You can create God in your own image and live as you please. It is also interesting that the developers figure that the only roles people would want to play is the one of a vengeful god.*(From the blog of Robin Koshy) So If Jonah was around he would have loved to play this game than face a God who is graceful. Even we become like Jonah when we make blanket statements like “Even God will not forgive him/her.” Well what exactly is the problem with Jonah? I was fascinated to this little book in the Old Testament thanks to my Old Testament Professor at the Seminary, Rev Dr M.C. Thomas. Honestly I would have loved it if the book would have ended at Chapter 3 where Jonah preaches, the people of Nineveh repent, God changes his mind. The sermon of Jonah is so powerful that it saved an entire city. But we have the chapter 4 and this racist, zealous prophet has a problem with God. God was angry with the Ninevites and so he sent Jonah. But when God’s anger ended Jonah becomes angry with God. Really? For what? Listen to the prayer from vs 2-3. “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” Well he thanked God for delivering him from the belly of the Whale. And now he wants to die because God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in Love. Jonah here represents the mentality of privatizing grace. God has been graceful with him and he is thankful for that. But in the days of Jonah, Assyria was the enemy of the Israelites (Judah to be more accurate). So the utter destruction of Nineveh was the dream and aspiration of an Israelite. His hate was what defined him. So when God called him to preach to Nineveh, he feared “what if” the people repented and God changed his mind. So he ran to Tarshish. Jonah is like the elder son in the Parable of the “Lost Son” who has grievance with the Father for accepting the wayward younger brother.
I see Jonah at work in me a lot of times. Like Jonah, I too am judgmental. Like Jonah I too wish I can accommodate God in the boxes of my thoughts. Like Jonah I too wish that God hates those I hate. Rev Fr Jerry Kurian so beautifully sums up that Jonah is the story of people who think they are good. Jonah is also the story of a preacher where the people listening to his sermons change, but Jonah like many of us does not change. (There is a research that states teachers and preachers are the most rigid people who refuse to change.) I feel the Sacrament of Confession is to counter the Jonah in us. The more we confess our sins, the more we are open to the grace of God. The sacrament of Confession exposes us to the scandal called the “Grace of God”. In Public Confession, God does not assure a private forgiveness, but he also assures forgiveness to those we cannot stand the sight of.
I remember Rev Dr K A Abraham narrating an incident to us in the class of theology. There was a man in a church who had serious problems with the parish priests and therefore refused to receive the Holy Communion from the priest. He wrote to the then Metropolitan of the Mar Thoma Church Most Rev Dr Juhanon Mar Thoma. “Dear Thirumeni, Our parish Priest is not a man of Grace. He is a very flawed man. Therefore I refuse to receive Holy Communion from his hand. I request you to come to our church so that finally I can receive Holy Communion after 7 months from a very worthy person like you.” Metropolitan replied, “I am pleased to know that such a holy person is part of my Church. But I feel unworthy to give you the Holy Communion. Please see to it that when you come to Thiruvalla you see me so that I can receive Holy Communion from you.”
According to the Lectionary, the Church is observing the 3 days lent (21st – 23rd Jan) that depicts Jonah being in the belly of the Whale for 3 days. The life of Jonah challenges us to overcome our self-righteousness. Let us stop creating God in our own image. Amen.
Rev Merin Mathew
Mar Thoma Syrian Church