Jonah 3:10–4:11; Matthew 20:1-16
Pr. Scott Kramer
When I was a child, one of my favorite Bible stories was the tale of “Jonah and the Whale.” What little kid wouldn’t love the story of someone on a ship who was thrown overboard, swallowed by a huge fish, and spit out unharmed onto dry land?
As an adult, this story is still one of my favorites, but not because of the big fish. The story of Jonah represents a very grown-up and difficult truth that all of us eventually must learn, and that truth is this: the wide, expansive embrace of God’s love for all people, and stubborn determination to save all!
Jonah is an angry man who resists doing the will of God. He’s Jewish but God wants him to go to the land of his enemies, the Assyrians—to their capital of Nineveh–and call them to turn from their evil ways so that God can save them. The problem for Jonah is that he doesn’t want them to repent and be saved. He wants to see them destroyed–wiped off the face of the earth!
Why is Jonah so angry? We don’t know for sure but we can use our imaginations. Think of stories you’ve heard during your lifetime about wartime atrocities. What if Jonah’s entire family had been killed by the Assyrians? That’s one possibility for his stubborn refusal to forgive and help save his enemies. If I were in Jonah’s shoes, I can imagine that I would respond to God’s command just as he did!
This past Friday night my wife and niece and I sat down to watch “The Shack,” a movie version of the best-selling book of the same name. The story features Mack, a young father whose youngest child, Missy, had been kidnapped and murdered by a serial killer during a family camping vacation. Mack’s grief and rage are eating him up and affecting everyone around him, most of all his wife and two surviving children. One day while driving and distracted by his grief, he himself is almost killed in a car accident. While unconscious in the hospital he has a vision of a conversation with God (pictured). In this vision Mack’s ideas about who God is are shattered. Part of this process is a conversation that Mack has with Wisdom, in which he has flashbacks of pain-filled chapters in his own life. This is the clip I’d like to share with you…
(Video of judgment scene from “The Shack”)
“Now you know the heart of Papa, Mack. He loves his children and wants to save every single one, even if it costs him everything.” This is the story of Jesus. In the end, Mack begins to let go of the rage that has been eating him up. “I don’t want to be the judge anymore,” he says.
How different from the response of Jonah! Having finally obeyed God’s command and having warned the people of Nineveh to repent, they turned from their evil ways, but this only made Jonah angrier. Jonah was quite happy to be the recipient of God’s grace but his own pain drove him to believe that he was entitled to play judge of others whom he had decided were not worthy of God’s grace. While Jonah sulks, God miraculously provides a bush that provides shade and Jonah is momentarily happy. Immediately the bush dies and Jonah retreats into self-pity and rage. At this, God asks Jonah,
“Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And Jonah said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” Then the LORD said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”
Dear friends, God has commanded you and me to do the work of Jonah. God has commanded us to proclaim to the world God’s love for all people. Notice that Jonah ran away from God’s presence. All of us are tempted to do likewise and sometimes we do give in to that temptation. But friends, I see a people here at Lakeridge Lutheran who are learning to respond to God’s command–sometimes by something as simple as just showing up!
For example, last Sunday many of you were here to help wish our sister Theresa farewell and as part of the festivities our music director Marissa suggested that we take a group picture. That picture is worth a thousand words of welcome. The faces that are represented are more powerful than any sermon. It’s an image that has reached more than 700 people on our Facebook page. You, in all your rich diversity, represent a faithful response to the same word that God commanded Jonah to preach: a word of God’s unconditional forgiveness, all-inclusive welcome, and tireless determination to somehow, eventually, gather every single person into the wide embrace of God’s love. This is the same story that Jesus tells in our reading from Matthew.
So friends, let us do the hard work that Mack did at recognizing and rooting out from our hearts anger and bitterness. My prayer is that each of us will grow in our ability to resist the temptation to defend what we see as our right to judge one another, and others.
May the Holy Spirit instill in each of us the spirit of Wisdom, the Spirit of God’s love for you—and for all people!