It’s not fair!

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Bible reading

Jonah 3:10-4:11

10 When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.

Jonah’s Anger at the Lord’s Mercy

This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. So he complained to the Lord about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.”

The Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?”

Then Jonah went out to the east side of the city and made a shelter to sit under as he waited to see what would happen to the city. And the Lord God arranged for a leafy plant to grow there, and soon it spread its broad leaves over Jonah’s head, shading him from the sun. This eased his discomfort, and Jonah was very grateful for the plant.

But God also arranged for a worm! The next morning at dawn the worm ate through the stem of the plant so that it withered away. And as the sun grew hot, God arranged for a scorching east wind to blow on Jonah. The sun beat down on his head until he grew faint and wished to die. “Death is certainly better than living like this!” he exclaimed.

Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?”

“Yes,” Jonah retorted, “even angry enough to die!”

10 Then the Lord said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. 11 But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness,[a] not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”

It’s not fair!

We have an inbuilt sense of justice. It’s not fair I cry as a child when the slightest injustice seems to occur, but the thing is we don’t really grow out of it… We have a sense that the world should be fair, even when blatantly much of the time it seems not to be. It’s not fair I think to myself, envious that they have more or better than me… whatever ‘more’ it might be that is preoccupying me at that time.

I love this reading from Jonah because it’s so real! He we have Jonah who according to the story so didn’t want to go and proclaim God’s word that he ran away in the opposite direction, nearly drowned and was rescued by a huge fish, so grumpily he goes on his mission and frankly in our reading today he is sulking. He has said as God commanded him, yet he knows enough of God to remember that he is merciful – I think being rescued by a fish probably taught him that! So, he knows that if the people repent, which they did, then the destruction promised won’t materialise – and he is grumpy. I wonder why this is? After all the people took notice of him, he told them God’s message to repent and they did. Perhaps he wondered what the point was of his message, perhaps he wanted to see God reign down destruction on his say so, perhaps he was just a reluctant prophet having a bad day?! Who knows?

What’s interesting is that God doesn’t leave him there to sit and sulk, he isn’t angry with him, instead he teaches him about grace. He sends a bush to grow and shade him, which Jonah loves, then removes it – here is grace, a blessing given, but then taken again at God’s will. Now of course this makes Jonah even more cross, but in doing so God is showing him what mercy is like – in the shade of the bush, and how unpleasant it is to live in a world without mercy, when the bush dies. And of course this is tiny in comparison to God’s compassion for Nineveh, and his mercy on that city.

We don’t know if this taught Jonah his lesson. If he stopped sulking and learnt a bit about the mercy of God that day. But it did make me wonder if rather than titling this ‘its not fair’ whether ‘Outrageous grace’ might have been a better title. I wonder what things in life are making you want to yell out its not fair to God? Of course there is much injustice in the world that is very definitely not fair… but if we are honest like Jonah there are times when we too cry its not fair, when really all we have is our own selfish interest at heart. Perhaps today you are feeling a bit grumpy with God? Well its ok to take that to him. This story shows how merciful God is with his followers, how gently he sets us on the right path. Or maybe there is something that God is using at the moment to teach you of his Grace. Maybe now is the time to step back and take notice and give thanks. We don’t know how Jonah responded to God’s grace, but we can each determine how we respond to it.

Take some time to bring your grumbles to God and ask that in mercy God might show you the meaning of outrageous grace.

Prayer

Try using the prayer of St Francis below as a way of reflecting on God’s grace and mercy, both how God shows it to us and how we can show it to others. Take time to pray it through slowly, several times reflecting on each line, bringing to mind the situations it mentions and any that are personal to you or that you think of in the news. For example; ‘Where there is hatred let me sow peace’ take some time to think of conflicts among those you know and abroad, think about how you can pray for peace in those situations.

Prayer of St Francis of Assisi

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
Where there is hatred, let me sow peace,
Where there is injury, let me sow pardon,
Where there is doubt, let me sow faith,
Where there is despair, let me give hope,
Where there is darkness, let me give light,
Where there is sadness, let me give joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may
Not try to be comforted, but comfort,
Not try to be understood but to understand,
Not try to be loved but to love.
Because it is in the giving that we receive
It is in the forgiving that we are forgiven
And it is in the dying that we are born to eternal life.

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