Sayings such as this are popular in the editorial pages of local newspapers – everything from wishing the destruction of homosexuals to the angrily penned words hailing the inevitable fall of America. They spew forth from talk radio, political speeches, even pulpits and mosques.
“The wrath of God is coming!
“A hard rain’s gonna fall!”
Even goofy bumper stickers …
“The goddess is coming and boy is she [ticked]!”
Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah: “Go to Nineveh, cry against it, they must repent!” Jonah, instead, went in the opposite direction. Who could blame him? You see, Jonah could escape the call, but he couldn’t help but turn others to God.
On the sea, there’s a storm. The sailors aboard Jonah’s boat prayed to their gods, to no avail. Jonah? Jonah was asleep! Either Jonah had a very low energy level, or God was with him. The God of Mercy.
“What is this you have done?” Seems Jonah was a Hebrew and the God of heaven was displeased with his efforts. Not only was it quite a storm – they threw him overboard. Jonah even suggested it! Better to suffer the effects of the unknown than those of his accusers.
A funny thing happened on the way to the whale. Yet, in the meantime, the crew members, now sailing on a calmer sea, prayed to the True God after dispatching His wayward messenger. They were converted! And, by God’s mercy, even Jonah was saved.
After Jonah’s hymn of thanksgiving to the Good God, the fish spat him onto dry land. Again he heard the voice of God. And, well, what to do after such a deliverance?
“Repent! Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown! Repent!”
It’s that same sound, the voice of the Lord, which later asked: “Do you believe that I can do this?” They couldn’t see the questioner. But, they heard his voice; two blind men, begging to be healed. The Lord of Mercy asked, “Do you believe I can do this?”
“Yes, Lord,” came their reply.
And, according to their faith, they were healed; their eyes were opened to see the Lord of Mercy.
Did Jonah believe? Probably not … at least not in the beginning. The Lord is funny that way. He can take even nominal believers and use them to His glory. Paul? Wasn’t even a nominal believer … struck down from his horse and converted. And look what he did for the Faith!
Nineveh? Not even nominal. But … converted. Even the cattle!
Jonah pouted. God wasn’t acting the way Jonah wished. Yet, God was acting the way Jonah knew He would!
“Dadblame it! That’s why I fled when you called because I knew that you were gracious and merciful; slow to anger and abounding in mercy. And, doggonit, you repentest of evil ….”
Boys will be boys. Normally God acts normally. In his anger, Jonah threw a hissy-fit and asked God to take his life!
Below is the great city. The lights can be seen from the hillside. He’s all alone. What to do? He’s been there for some time now. His life is in shambles. He’s decided to end it. After all, God doesn’t seem to care. He’ll drive off the mountainside. They’ll find a note. Perhaps God will forgive him. He opens the glove-compartment to find a pen to write his goodbye note.
There’s no pen!
This can’t be. There’s always a pen in the car! A pencil? Nope. Nothing! What is a life – and its sudden ending – without a stinking suicide note?
He starts to cry. Starts to curse. He gives God the ol’ What-For!
And yet, he lives. He lives. He lives … and tears flow down his face. He had to get rid of all the crud in his heart. He did. And now it becomes clearer: the air, the stars, the moon, his mom … God. The Lord of Mercy. He sees the Lord of Mercy.
He lives. But he claims he wants to die. At his pouting place east of the city, he sits. There, God causes a plant to grow over him – basking him in cool shade. Jonah was glad; but, the worm ate it. The plant gone, Jonah is ticked again. God asks if Jonah has good reason to be mad over a one day plant. Jonah (God bless him) says: “Yeah! Mad enough to die!”
We laugh. Who wouldn’t? We laugh at things that contain a grain of truth. We can’t help but see ourselves in this reluctant angry prophet of the Lord. Stub your toe – curse and have a bad day. In the wrong lane at the supermarket for 20 minutes? Begin to hate your neighbor. Gossip, lose your friends; lose your friends, gossip more. Hate … it’s a big thing grown from a trifle of seed.
“What? You’re angry over the pant that you never planted? It was here for only one day … and you’re mad enough to die?! For crying out loud, Jonah! Nineveh, that great city – with a whole bunch of cattle and over 120,000 souls … I should smite them with impetuous anger such as yours?”
“Do you believe that I can do this?” The Lord always asks us this sort of question. We have no problem believing in the Lord’s destructive powers. Yet, when it comes to qualities such as “merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,” we create God in our own image. We, like Jonah, want God to be wrathful and quick! “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord” – but, could you please hurry up?!
And this God will have none of that!
“Do you believe that I can do this?” The same question, yet the scenery has changed. It is no longer Nineveh, Los Angeles, or even small town USA. It’s the Gates … and there’s but one question.
Therese of Lisieux said that when she got to the day of Judgment, if God looked at her and said, “Away from me you wicked and undeserving servant – away from Me to eternal hell fire!” she would not cry.
But, if God Almighty opened His arms and lovingly welcomed her into His Kingdom … then … Then, she would cry.
The men of Nineveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here!
The Lord of Mercy.
Nineveh, Jonah, America, you and me – at the very Gates of Repentance …
One question: “Do you believe that I can do this?”
Image of the Prophet Jonah taken from St Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church.
Sources: The Book of Jonah, Matthew 9:27 ff, icons and a mirror.