International Sunday School Lesson
For Week Ending March 14, 2010
Purpose: To examine our attitude toward the breadth of God's grace
Scripture Text: Jonah 3:10; Jonah 4:1-5 (NRSV)
(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.
(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.
My Thoughts by Burgess Walter
Last week we learned that the Book of Jonah was more than just another fish tale. Jonah was called by God to do a task that Jonah had no interest in doing. The question I have to ask God is “Is this the best man you could find to do this job?” Jonah would have been ruled out by physiological testing in most of our minister review boards. He was an egotistical, self centered bigot, that was glad his God was gracious and merciful, but was unwilling to share his God or God's message with those he did not like, or even despised.
Even while Jonah was in the belly of the great fish and crying out to God, Phyllis Tribe in her book, “The Book of Jonah,” points out that in Jonah's supposed prayer of thanksgiving to God, (2:1-9) Jonah in eight verses uses the first person singular twenty-six times as subject, object, or possessive. None of them in a self-effacing way; they are all boastful.
Jonah like a lot of us and maybe even like most preachers had a big ego. Even when Jonah was soaked with the digestive juices of a great fish, it was all about him. What a merciful God we have, that we are so unpleasant, vile and distasteful, we can make a fish vomit, (think about everything a fish eats) and God still finds a way to use an egotistical, prejudice, slothful, defiant servant like us and Jonah.
This is not the first time God has considered saving a wicked city. Back in Genesis 18:24-33 Abraham confronts God about saving the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. God is willing to save them if he could find as few as ten righteous men in those cities. One has to wonder if Lot had been a better witness or preacher maybe those cities could have been saved. Which leads me to think that it may not have been necessarily true that everyone in Nineveh repented of doing evil. However, enough of them did repent and the sincerity of that repentance was such, that God was willing to forgo the destruction. God gave them a new opportunity, in a sense they were born again, because the death sentence that had been declared, was commuted, and they received new life.
Jonah gets mad at God for being “gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.” Even in listening to Jonah lament about how disappointed he is in such an understanding God, God understands Jonah's anger. Jonah convinces himself that he needs to go set outside the city and wait and see what happens. Will God destroy or forgive? I think Jonah is close enough to God that he knows the answer, Jonah does not want to live with the answer, but he also can not live without this relationship he has with God.
When Jonah consents to go and preach to Nineveh, he still is being defiant and selfish, he has no concern for the people of Nineveh, or even about God's plan for redemption. When we put conditions on God's plan for redeeming humankind, we are being selfish and disrespectful of God. God is not willing that any should perish, but there are times when we want to choose whom God should save and how. Since we are the benefactors of “so great a salvation,” we must be willing to witness to those we do not like, or agree with in doctrine or lifestyle and make certain they have an opportunity to experience God's loving kindness and grace the same as us. From the beginning of time God has been trying to get His message to all of humanity, you are just His newest vessel or tool.
Your response to His call, could be a factor in many others coming to know his love and grace. Your call may be to go, or it may be to send a card, be sure you respond and don't run away, God has no hands or feet or voice but ours.