You’ve probably heard it said that there’s more to a story than meets the eye. That claim certainly applies to the first chapters of Jonah’s story. As we reach the fourth chapter, we glimpse the real Jonah, and discover the driving force in his life.
We find him displeased with God, a furious and fuming servant of the Lord. He’s a narrow little man, a first-class nationalist who believes in Israel first, and maybe only. God, however, is placing the wicked heathen of the world on the same level as God’s own people. And Jonah is angry.
The prophet has an even deeper problem. He hates Assyrians. Hatred and hostility toward non-Jews marked Israel’s culture for hundreds of years before Jonah arrived. The prophet’s religious diet has lacked a full understanding of God’s heart and Israel’s calling since childhood. God calls Israel to be a light to the nations, but God’s people have gotten off track, and so has its prophet.
Jonah’s story lets us see how complex human nature is. While Jonah can describe God’s five powerful qualities, he can’t appreciate what God intends for his life and calling. Jonah can shout a ringing call to repent, but can’t celebrate the repentance of those he despises. The prophet is one of God’s chosen, but he’s narrow minded. His world is limited, self-centered, and exclusionary.
Many of us struggle as Jonah does with being narrow-minded, self-centered, and exclusionary. We cite truths about God without realizing what they mean for us. Many in 21st-century America are not different from Jonah. Think of white supremacists, racists, and others shaped by deep-seated prejudice and antagonism. Will we be shackled by bias and prejudice, or will we be freed to accept God’s assignment?
In what ways do the five qualities of God that Jonah names challenge all of us?
God, empower us to be your messengers of good news. By your Spirit, shape us to be gracious, slow to anger, steadfast in love and compassion. Amen.