Jonah had been told by God to go to preach to Nineveh about its sins. He ran off, because he didn’t want to do that. He ended up in the belly of a great fish and, after that, found himself - guess where - in Nineveh. Jonah (I think reluctantly) preached about the disaster that was coming to the city because of the sin of its people. But God relented and we find Jonah in one of the Old Testament’s most epic sulks.
It’s so, so easy in church land to take the hump. Someone gets the acknowledged thanks for the thing you did. You have a talent that’s overlooked in favour of someone else. You really want to be asked to read or lead prayers, but the minister picks someone else. We naively think that, because the church is God’s people on earth gathered in community, it will be immune from rivalry, politics, envy and pettiness. Think again. The church may be composed of people whose hearts and minds seek God, but its members are no different to others in the human race, with our frailties, ambitions and needs.
Jonah is in the huff because, having preached that God would destroy Nineveh because of its sin, God has now chosen to be graceful. Jonah seems oblivious to the fact that God has been moved by the effectiveness of Jonah’s preaching. Jonah is grumpy as a consequence of his own success.
I think this teaches us that we must seek to move beyond our personal agendas. If we do something on God’s business, we don’t always know the consequences of it. If our motives are right - in that we do it because we love our God and we love our neighbour, nothing else matters and we mustn’t be diminished or crushed because of someone else’s more self-driven desires.
Help me in everything I do to be focused first and foremost on you and your love for the world. Help me put may vanity and my pride aside so that I can serve you the best I possibly can.
10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
4 1 But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. 3 And 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, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’ 5 Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.
6 The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. 7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live.’
9 But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?’ And he said, ‘Yes, angry enough to die.’ 10 Then the Lord said, ‘You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labour and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?’