Thursday, July 29, 2010

Jonah 1-4: Willing to Die for What He Believes

From Garden to City reading:  Jonah 1-4

I thought about skipping the book of Jonah.  I mean, I've read this book lots of times and heard the story in Sunday School way more times than that.  (Sunday School teachers love the story of Jonah and the big fish!)  And after all, I'm behind on the whole blogging thing.  A little thing called life got in the way this week.

And then my rules-based psyche kicked in, and I decided to go ahead and read it.  I mean, how long could it take?  That was back on Monday.

You probably know the story.
Jonah is a prophet in Israel, serving the one true God.
You recall that Israel became a divided kingdom after Solomon's son decided to take bad advice.  At that point, Solomon's son ruled Judah, the southern kingdom, and some other king--I don't remember who--ruled the northern kingdom, which was known as Israel.

Neither kingdom worshiped God consistently, but Judah had a better track record.  Israel mostly had ungodly kings who sought after other gods, but in this short period of time, Jonah's time, Israel has a godly king, Jeroboam.

And this is significant because Israel is always needing God's mercy.
Israel is always needing God's deliverance.
They may be God's chosen people, but they sure don't live like it most of the time.
And Jonah doesn't seem to get it.

So when God tells Jonah to go to the evil Ninevites and "preach against it because its wickedness" has come up before the Lord, he jumps on a ship going the opposite direction.

Those people are not chosen, and they do not deserve to hear from God.

And when Jonah's ship encounters a storm, he tells the sailors to throw him overboard.  God is mad at him.  Death doesn't bother Jonah as much as going to Ninevah.

And when he's in the belly of the big fish, Jonah praises God.
My NIV study Bible, so helpful in understanding some of the back story, says Jonah is praising God because he knows he will be delivered, but I'm not so sure.  He's in a fish.  How's he going to get out?  And even if he does, how's he going to get to shore?

I think he's still a little full of himself.
"When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord . . .
Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.
But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you . . ."

Jonah isn't afraid to die.
He's not like those who "cling to worthless idols" and forfeit grace.  Grace belongs to Jonah.

And so the fish vomits Jonah onto dry land, Jonah decides to go to Ninevah, he preaches, the Ninevites repent, God doesn't destroy them, and Jonah pouts.

He says, "God.  This really ticks me off.  I knew this would happen, and this is why I didn't want to come here. I knew they would repent, and then you would have compassion, and you wouldn't give them what they deserve."

They worshiped other gods, and they forfeited any grace that might have earned.
And once again he would rather die.  He says, "Oh Lord, take away my life for it is better for me to die than to live."

Oh, Jonah.  Don't you get it?
How many times has God had compassion on the Israelites when they repented?
Are the Ninevites really so different from the Israelites?

The thing is, and I hate to admit it, I sort of identify with Jonah.
Sometimes I want people to get what they deserve.
Not people like me, of course.  We deserve compassion.

But THOSE people, the people who are not like me.
They're bad people, and they should be punished.
And maybe I run the other way when God asks me to love them, to spend time with them, to share my life with them so that they can see His love.

And I think maybe I'm not alone.
I think we all have a tendency to identify with some people and classify some people as "others."  We don't know them.  They're different.  The things they do offend us.  We avoid them.

We want them to get what they deserve.

And now I'm stepping out on a limb.
Who do we identify as "other"?  (The answer different for all of us, depending on our own life experience.)

The homeless?
Mexicans crossing the border illegally?
Drug users?
Muslims?  Arabs?

Who do we avoid?
Do we judge them?  Are our hearts open to God's compassion for them?
Is God asking us to go to them?
What might God want to do through our lives?

God doesn't see any of us as "other."  He loved the Israelites, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  He loved the Ninevites.
He loves homeless people and criminals.  He loves Mexicans crossing the border.  He loves drug users.  He loves Muslims.  (And all the "others" I haven't mentioned or even thought of.)

I have some friends in Fiji right now.  They're installing water filters in predominantly Hindu and Muslim villages, sharing the love of God as they go.  For them, the villagers are not "other."
They're almost done right now, but the work goes on even when they're not there.

Let's pray for them today.
And let's pray for each other, that we would see people the way God sees them.
That when God calls us to go to the "others" that we will go instead of running the other way.

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