When God saw that they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it. But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? 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. And now, O Lord please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
Last week I was working with a friend to plant some flowers into the community garden. My friend was standing next to me and loosened a sprout from a carton to hand to me to plant in the ground. However I could not focus on his help in that moment because he was stepping on another flower we had just put in the ground! My friend was so focused on helping me that he was damaging a flower we had just planted. Sometimes it is so easy to see what can be better around us that we are not aware of the impact of our own presence.
How ironic is it that Jonah was angry because God showed mercy to the people just like God said would happen? Like my friend, Jonah in that moment was more focused on the Ninevites that he did not aware of his own impact in the world.
Jonah was angry because God had decided to be merciful to a huge city full of wickedness. In Jonah it says that Nineveh was huge, a three days walk across! I can imagine Jonah apprehensively entering this city to deliver God’s message and witnessing the wickedness throughout the city. I imagine it might feel similar to walking through Minneapolis, New York, Chicago, or across the whole island of Oahu and witnessing police brutality, incarceration of Black and Brown people, and the desecration of land. In delivering the message to the Ninevites to repent to God or to be overthrown perhaps Jonah was not hoping that they would repent, but that they would get what he thought they deserved.
Jonah was angry because he did not expect that the Ninevites would actually repent and listen to God or that God would actually show them mercy. He wanted God to punish them because he thought that is what they deserved. Jonah’s anger reveals to us that he has already forgotten who God is and why he follows God. Just prior to this God had been merciful to him after Jonah ran from God! In contrast to the Ninevites who heard God’s message and immediately turned to repentance, Jonah heard God and ran away. We learn that God’s mercy and loving justice are much better than Jonah’s.
We may often find ourselves as Christians in a similar mindset to Jonah where we feel angry when we see God being merciful to people who might hurt others. Instead of believing that God should punish those who we perceive as wicked we have the opportunity to turn inward and see the ways that we need mercy from God ourselves. All of us are a part of communities that have been conditioned to perpetuate harm towards one another. Can we pause, identity, and be grateful for the ways that we need God’s mercy just as much as those around us?
God we are grateful that you are a loving, just, and merciful God. We pray that you will open us to examine our hearts and our assumptions about the way that you love us and our world. We pray that we will become more loving witnesses of you. Amen.
Written by: Cassie Chee