Compassion is Not About You

Jonah’s Anger at the Lord’s Compassion

Jonah 4: 1-11

4 But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3 Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
4 But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?” 5 Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city.6 Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. 7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die,and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”
9 But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” “It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” 10 But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

Compassion Is Not About You

Earlier in the book of Jonah, the Lord sent Jonah to the city of Nineveh to warn them that the city would be destroyed. The Ninevites believed Jonah’s proclamation and repented of their sins by declaring a city wide fast. Jonah didn’t want to warn or help the Ninevites in any way so he fled from the Lord. As many people know, the Lord punished Jonah for fleeing by having him swallowed by fish. Jonah eventually yielded to the Lord and went to warn the Ninevites of their impending doom. Upon hearing his warning, the king commanded the city to repent and God accepted the Ninevites repentance.
The mercy extended to the Ninevites angered Jonah to the point that he simply wanted to die. In Jonah’s defense, the Ninevites were a people who were not kind and somewhat oppressed to the Israelites. In fact, the king of Ninevah had laid siege to Hezekiah in 2 Kings 18. In addition, the Ninevites were in fact wicked. Hence, God’s plan to destroy the city in the first place.
Yet, verse 2 of our text tells us all that we need to know. “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger, abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” Jonah  didn’t believe the Ninevites deserved God’s mercy. His personal relationship with the Ninevites caused Jonah to disagree with God.
Unfortunately, that happens today. We all have been hurt, mistreated, slandered, or discriminated against. These personal insults are often hard to let go. Therefore, we hold on to them waiting with anticipation for God to deal harshly with those we deem as enemies. The book of Jonah shows that often the best remedy is to voice our pain and leave it in God’s hands; not with anticipated vengeance but with peace and mercy. Why? Because sometimes the very people to whom God wants us show compassion will have disappointed us or hurt us in the past. However, if God says mercy then mercy and compassion is what we as Christians must be prepared to do.
Jonah’s reluctance to accept God’s compassion got him stuck in the belly of a fish and sunburnt to the point of death. What Jonah forgot was that despite the Ninevites previous insults to him and his people, God had preserved Jonah. As we continue to focus on being compassionate in our daily lives, let us remember to focus more on what God is doing than what the people we encounter are doing.
Cecil Lettsome

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