When I was younger and heard the story of Jonah in Sunday school, I thought it was funny. This guy was trying to run away from God and got eaten by a whale - that is a good story! Later in life when I was wrestling with my call to ministry the story of Jonah resurfaced for me in a new way. Here was this man called by God to do this work in Nineveh and Jonah didn't want anything to do with it. He tried desperately to get away from God's call only to find that there is no running from God and what God wants you to do. I felt a lot like Jonah. I too wanted to run away from God as I thought about going to seminary to become a pastor. As you can tell this worked out about as well for me as it did for Jonah.
I was re-reading the book of Jonah this week preparing for this week's sermon in our minor prophets series and a new portion of Jonah resonated with me - the end. This is the part of the story of Jonah that few people remember. We all know that Jonah was called by God to go to the city of Nineveh and then Jonah refused and instead boarded a ship to Tarshish. While on that ship a storm rage against him and the people aboard. In an effort to calm the storm the men throw Jonah overboard to ease God's wrath. And it works! The storm stops, but while Jonah is floating in the water he is quickly swallowed up by a big fish. He spends three days in the belly of that fish praying to God and asking for forgiveness. He promises that if God would release him from the fish he would go to Nineveh. The fish spits him out three days later and he begins his journey to Nineveh to tell the people there that they have sinned and need to repent and turn back to God.
But here's the part of the story that I find intriguing this week. Sure, Jonah goes and he tells the Ninevites all that God tells him to and the people actually listen! They repent and they are forgiven. Jonah should be thrilled! He obeyed God's Word, preached God's message, and the people heard him - isn't that the hope and prayer of every prophet? Well, it was not Jonah's hope. You see, Jonah did not think the people of Nineveh deserved to be forgiven. He thought the people deserved to die - to be blotted out from the earth by God for all of their sin and wrongdoing.
There are times that all of us feel like Jonah whether we want to admit it or not. We know that God offers unconditional love and undeserved mercy to all. We understand this about God because it's what we have been taught all of our lives and pastors preach about it every single Sunday. But, when we are faced with the Ninevites in our lives - those who are consumed by evil and darkness - we believe that they do not deserve love and forgiveness. We, like Jonah, want God to bring down harsh and immediate justice. Except, we don't really want justice. What we want is revenge. But God calls us, like he called Jonah, to preach God's love and forgiveness even when we might not feel much like loving or forgiving.