Jon 4:1-11 / Lk 11:1-4
The book of Jonah, from which we’ve been reading for the past three days, is a masterful piece of fiction, a satire with an important message that more than the Israelites needed to hear. Jonah had been sent by God to convert the pagan Ninevites. He refused to go and gave as his excuse that the Ninevites, being non-Jews, weren’t worth the effort. God differed with Jonah on that and had his whale spit him up on the shores of Nineveh.
Jonah still resisted but God insisted, so he did preach, and the whole town repented, which made Jonah angry all over again: Why waste mercy on outsiders? So he went off to sulk in the shade of a vine which got a worm and died, leaving Jonah hot and even more angry and praying for death!
Then God posed the question: “Jonah, you are upset about the death of this little vine, which took only a day to grow. Shouldn’t I be concerned about the great city of Nineveh with 120,000 souls who can’t tell their right hand from their left…?”
Jonah isn’t a very appealing character, but we should recognize him easily enough, because there’s a lot of him in us all. One of our very worst instincts is to draw a circle and put some folks inside it and leave the rest outside. The very act of drawing that narrow circle blinds us to the value and the needs and the goodness of those outside it. And that makes us radically different from God “who makes his sun and his rain to fall on both the just and unjust alike.”
The challenge and the grace that God offers us through the book of Jonah is to call no one “stranger” or “enemy,” but instead to include every human being inside the circle of our love and concern. It’s a huge challenge, but grace comes with it. So let us begin to re-draw our circle, this time very, very wide.