By: Pastor Jarren Rogers
“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” – Mother Theresa
The story of Jonah can too easily be written off as a cute story. It is the type of Bible story that is subjected to coloring pages, Veggie Tale movies, and felt boards. Too often it is with these “Sunday-School Stories” that we can miss the hard truth and dark realities that lie just beneath the story.
I mean, take a step back and really look at the story of Jonah. Here we have a man who gets a very real and audible call from God – something that I’m sure a lot of us would love to have. But what is the first thing that He does?
“Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish” (Jonah 1:3).
It is after receiving this miraculous and rare call from God that Jonah packs up his things and heads in the opposite direction. Jonah sins against God.
But what happens? He heads to Tarshish and a great storm overtakes the boat. It is then that Jonah is thrown overboard so his fellow sailors could evade the wrath of God and Scripture tells us that Jonah was swallowed up by a great fish.
What if the story ended there? It ends with Jonah’s muffled scream as the jaws of a giant fish close in around him and then the credits roll. What would the moral of the story be? Whenever we sin against God and turn from Him, we are met with punishment and a quick death, possibly being eaten whole by a freak of nature.
No. Luckily for us, the story doesn’t end there. God shows mercy on Jonah and the great fish vomits him onto the shore. Gross. This may not be the Bible story to read while you’re eating.
Jonah is thankful for the Lord’s saving grace goes on to the city of Nineveh to finish the job to which he was first called. His mission is successful. God was ready to destroy the city, but because of Jonah’s witness, the people turned from their evil ways and God showed mercy on them.
What happens next though is surprising, to say the least. Jonah throws a temper tantrum like an angry three-year-old. He cries out to God: Why don’t you destroy this evil city? It isn’t fair! I’d rather die than to see the vile city of Nineveh live another day.
So stomps off to the edge of the city and sulks in the hot sun. Once again, God shows mercy to Jonah and provides a plant to give Him shade, but Jonah is ungrateful and the plant withers.
And that’s the end of the story. It seems to leave off without any conclusion. But I think the writer did this for a reason. You see, we finish the story of Jonah. We decide how it ends.
God extended Jonah mercy in the belly of the fish but when it came to offering mercy to the Ninevites, Jonah wanted no part of it!
How often have we, like Jonah, sinned against God, and yet, because of grace and mercy we have been saved? How often have we, like Jonah, sought judgement upon others who have sinned against us or God? How often do we look down upon them from the edge of the city asking God to rain down destruction? How often have we gratefully accepted God’s mercy and yet forbidden God from offering it to someone else?
We end the story of Jonah because we have a choice: Do we sulk at the edge of the city and ask God to rain down destruction on the evildoers around us? Or do we enter into Nineveh as a living witness to the grace and mercy of our God?