Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Jonah in Me

I can't help but be amused by the story from the First Reading today. It tells me how I relate to God and how God relates to me.

We know the biblical character Jonah more because of the big fish that swallowed him and in whose belly he stayed for three days. What happened to Jonah after he obeyed God, since he was given a second chance to do so, is told in Jonah 4, the last chapter. In the previous chapters, Jonah tried in vain to escape from God because he didn't like what God was asking him to do. As he found himself on land again, delivered by the fish to the shore, he got God's point and proceeded to deliver His message for Nineveh. We read that the people repented so much that God decided not to punish the Ninevites anymore. He was moved by the prayer and fasting that they all did. Jonah, who was supposed to be just the messenger, did not like it that God forgave and forget so easily. So chapter 4 reads:

4:1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 2 And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. 3 Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4 And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?”

5 Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. 6 Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. 7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” 9 But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” 10 And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

Believe you me, this drama sounds so like me these days, by analogy. To put it simply, God told me to do something, but I didn't like it. I tried to run from him and to hide, as if there was a place on this earth that was beyond His loving eyes. He scooped me out of the "bottom of the sea" that I was in, and gave me a second chance to do what He asked of me. But something happened - something unexpected - that shook my faith. I didn't confront God, but tried to avoid Him.

The ending of the book of Jonah sounds unfinished, at least, from a human standpoint. Jonah wasn't given a chance to reply. God had the last word, and I ponder upon these words. I was angry at God for something that He took away from me, but now I see that I did not labor for it, I did not make it grow, just as Jonah did not have the right to be angry at God for letting the plant that gave him shade to wilt. God, who pursues us the way He pursued Jonah, deserves much better treatment than what I'm giving Him.

I cannot say that I understand. That may come later. But I realized that I would not do well to be angry.

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