Proper 20 – Ordinary 25 – Pentecost + 16
24 September 2017
Psalm 145:1-8 pg 903
Jonah 3:10 – 4:1-11
God of deep compassion, you welcome the weak and free us from the bondage of sin. Break the cycle of judgement and violence through Jesus our forgiveness, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Today’s readings are full of human emotion.
But, in thinking about it, we can only have human emotion if we, humanity, are listening for, listening to, and interacting with God. Not just for our own lives, but for all who have walked this road before us, those who will walk this road after us, and for those whom we meet in today’s passages.
So, lets meet one of those, in our readings, and perhaps we’ll meet ourselves there, as well.
Jonah is a man of independent means. He owns his own home. He has a degree in computer sciences, and he’s managed to make more than a tidy income setting up his own tech company making applications for today’s hand-held technology.
He’s, also, a man of strong faith, following the laws of Moses to the best of his ability. For entertainment, his favourite books are by Dan Brown, and he likes a good action apocalyptic movie, as much as anyone. One of his favourite movies was 2012, about the destruction of the world coinciding with the end of the Mayan calendar, and when watching Jurassic Park, he’s been known to root for the dinosaurs.
He’s gotten into the habit of looking at the world through this ‘jaded eye,’ looking for the renewing action of God through the destruction of the world around him.
He’s come to suspect that the world is unable to truly change, unable to truly accept God’s love and teachings as defined by the Mosaic covenant, and so, when God calls him to go to Nineveh, to go to the pagans and proclaim God’s warning and offer God’s redemption, he chooses to run away.
Deep in his heart, Jonah wishes to see only God’s love for God’s chosen people, but for those outside of the covenant, Jonah would rather see the wrath of God, the destruction promised for ‘unbelievers.’
So imagine Jonah’s disappointment when the people of Nineveh hear Jonah’s message. They hear the words of God and, instead of following the path that Jonah sees laid out for them, they choose to mend their ways and beg for God’s grace and forgiveness.
He wanted to see the wrath of God. He wanted to see the destruction of the city. What entertainment that would be!
But, instead, they repented. They turned their lives around. They accepted the love of God into their hearts and God rejoices. So, Jonah is disappointed, he’s upset.
“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?’” (Jon 4:1-4)
As God asks God’s question, Jonah sulkily sits on the hillside overlooking Nineveh and he remembers all that he’s experienced since he first heard the word of God.
He remembers the voyage from Tarshish, heading in the opposite direction from Nineveh. He remembers being thrown overboard by the crew and swallowed by the fish.
He remembers being spat out by the fish on the road to Nineveh, and he remembers being covered from head to foot by the smell and the slime of fish.
He remembers being on the road and moving through Nineveh with nothing but the contents of his pockets, and he remembers keeping himself warm at night with thoughts of seeing God’s retribution, God’s wrath and destruction on the city of Nineveh.
But this didn’t happen!
Instead, they repented!
They turned their lives around! They accepted the love of God into their hearts and God rejoices!
So, Jonah is disappointed, he’s upset.
The destruction God’s word promised didn’t happen and Jonah is upset and he focuses his anger at God.
As he waits on the hillside overlooking Nineveh, God gives him a day under the shade of a plant, and he enjoys that day, as he comes to the understand the depth of God’s mercy. He’s not happy about God’s mercy, but he does understand better that God chooses to show mercy.
And when that plant withers and dies, he’s angry at the plant! Jonah’s anger isn’t directed at God, it’s directed at himself. His anger isn’t directed at the worm that ate the plant, but at the plant itself.
“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.’” (Jon 4:9)
Jonah’s is really angry at God’s mercy being shown to those who are considered pagans, but he takes the anger out on himself, and on the plant that he had no hand in cultivating.
In response to Jonah, God says: “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” (Jon 4:11)
And here is where we are able to find ourselves, in the pages of the story.
Are we Jonah? Are we the Ninevites? Are we the worm, mindlessly going about its business of thriving on the life of the plant? How have we chosen to embody the will of God for our lives, for our experiences in the community, for how we interpret the world on all sides?
Jesus parable, in today’s gospel, touches on this as well when the land owner goes to pay the workers and all get fair pay for the day worked, whether they’ve been there for an hour, or since the break of day.
I read a great sermon, this week, that talked about our priorities, our jealousies, our attempts to prioritize our will over that of God, and we can see this in both the gospel, and in the passage from Jonah, today.
At the same time, when we open ourselves to God’s generosity, a generosity we are able to see in today’s readings, shining behind and around our objections, our attempts to shift God’s priorities to match our priorities.
When we’re able to put God’s generosity ahead of our ideologies we are able to be a part of something that is so much bigger, so much grander than we’ve ever imagined, every day.
Today, we see Jonah upset because he didn’t get to see the destruction of the city of Nineveh, in the same way God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. Yet we see the mercy of God, not just for Jonah, not just for the worm and the plant, but also for all of the people of Nineveh who are just beginning to get to know God.
“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?’” (Jon 4:10-11)
Because we are loved by God, God leaves room for us to grow. God gives us room to get to know the depths of God’s love for each one of us; a love that is found in the teachings, the parables, of Jesus.
It’s found in the passion, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, who bears our sins, our burdens from this world so that we are able to experience the love of God in all of the aspects of our lives.
We see this, in the gospel, for today, as well as in the passage from Jonah. We see this in the actions of the land owner who chooses to pay everyone equally.
What we’re experiencing, here is the grace of God, freely given for all, whether we are early to the kingdom of heaven, or newly arrived in a life of faith.
In the face of our grumbling, “[the land owner] answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’” (Mt 20:11b-15)
It’s when we are able to grow, when we’re able to accept what it is that God freely gives of God’s grace, mercy, love to all of creation, then the kingdom of heaven grows in our hearts, in our lives, in the world around us to the point where we can see it in our hearts and in our eyes.
Jonah is disappointed because he doesn’t get to see the wrath of God, so angry that he turns that anger upon himself, because who would be angry with God? Yet, we are often angry with God, and we tend to turn that anger upon ourselves without realizing it.
At the same time, God continues to choose to show love and mercy, not just to those whom we don’t know, but to us, as well. God chooses to bestow grace and love where God sees fit, instead of where we think God’s love, and grace would be a benefit.
And in the face of this love, in the face of this grace, this compassion not only for each one of us, but for all of creation, we are able to grow, to embody God’s love, God’s compassion, and we are able to love, as God loves.
We’re able to set aside the negative emotions of our humanity, and we’re able to welcome workers to the vineyard. We’re able to revel in the restoration of the population to the grace of God, as God enters their hearts and turns their lives to the good of creation, every day.