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At first glance, it seems the main lesson is this:
Do what God tells you to do the first time, lest you want to get eaten by a big fish.
While I think this is an important lesson, I think the bigger reason why Jonah's story is included in the Bible is because it is a story of mercy.
Sure, God shows Jonah mercy by giving him another chance to fulfill his calling, but God also teaches Jonah the importance of being merciful. Sometimes we are quick to receive mercy, but hesitant to give it away.
The whole reason that Jonah didn't want to go to Nineveh is because he knew what would happen if he went there, opened his mouth, and let God's words tumble out. He knew that Nineveh would repent and that God would then spare them. He cries out to God,
"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 rich with unfailing love! You are eager to turn back from destroying people!" Jonah 4:2It all sounds kind of silly to my ears at first. Who would blame God for being compassionate and merciful? Would not we sink into this truth instead, filled with gratitude that we serve a God that will not turn away from our desperate repentance?
But then, Fr. Mike goes on, comparing Jonah to the elder brother in the story of the prodigal son. It is at this reference that I understand the heart of Jonah in that moment. It's a heart of pride. It's a heart that says:
I'm better than them.
My works are more meaningful.
It's not fair that he..., when I have...
It's a heart that cultivates a false image of myself for a myriad of reasons -- self-protection, self-elevation, self-image. The key word is self -- when I neglect to extend mercy, I choose myself. When Jonah wanted an entire city of 120,000 people to perish so that he could feel good about his own life, his own culture, his own people, he chose himself.
I wonder if Jonah got the message. I wonder if it pierced his heart so much that he couldn't help but allow God to free him from the worldview that so consumed his life?
I want to be pierced. I don't want to go through life living for myself. I don't want to bind myself in chains of comparisons and judgement. When God says go, I want to go freely, ready to embrace the amazing qualities of God that daily transform my soul. Plus, I don't really want to spend three days in the belly of a fish, or some sort of equivalent.
What about you? Have you had times when it was hard to be merciful?
Linking up with Michelle at Graceful.
And don't forget: Soli Deo Sisterhood link opens Monday night at 7:30pm CST.
And did you know? We are planning a retreat!