JONAH 3:10 – 4:11
ST. AUGUSTINE’S EPISCOPAL CHURCH, MORROW, GEORGIA
THE REV. BARRY GRIFFIN, RECTOR
Carolyn Hax writes an advice column for The Atlanta Journal Constitution. When she went on vacation last summer she printed some of the letters she had received from her readers. Here’s one of them. The letter began:
“I am a mental health provider, and I have this piece of advice for all those whose lives are not what they want theirs to be:
“For goodness sake, quit complaining and do something!
“You can’t afford to travel? Get a second job or a weekend job and start saving.
“Don’t like the family you were born into? Join a church or a club or an athletic team and create a family of like-minded friends.
“Feel that you are stuck and life is passing you by? Make a list of priorities and take the first step toward making number one happen.
“In a dead-end job? Train for a better one at the local community college.
“No job at all? Volunteer, make crafts to sell, post offers to clean or do yardwork at the local grocers.
“Spouse drinks too much: Join Al-Anon.
“Depressed? Start eating better and walking a mile or two a day.
“Not close to your family? Make the first move, call often, and build your side of the bridge.
“Quit waiting to win the lottery, to fall in love, for a pill to bring you happiness or for miracles to parachute into your life.
“Each of us is given a life, a brain, and a couple of decades to make a difference on this planet. No one else is responsible to bring happiness to us; it’s our own responsibility, and what we create is up to us. Thanks for letting me sound off!”
I guess this mental health provider was tired of hearing people’s troubles. Her basic message seems very simple: stop complaining, be positive, and do something positive. But for some people that’s easier said than done.
Some people seem to be born pessimists. No matter how bright the future appears, there’s always a down side.
I’ve known such people, and I’ve learned to accept their negativity. Maybe they can’t help it. Maybe that’s just the way they were made.
But here’s what I find difficult to accept: the need to be right about just about everything. I wonder if the need to be right drives people toward pessimism.
Think about it. Often things don’t turn out the way we plan. People make mistakes. Circumstances change. But if you play the pessimist in every situation sooner or later you get the golden opportunity to utter these four sweet words: I told you so.
I told you so. For some, there seems to be no greater satisfaction in life than saying those four words. Another four-word phrase is closely related: I knew all along.
In response I’m sometimes tempted to say, “If you knew all along, why in the world didn’t you tell me?”
The need to be right in all things is not a good thing, and it has consequences.
Jonah had to be right, didn’t he?
He resisted going to Nineveh. He didn’t want to preach against the people of Nineveh because he knew God would forgive them. Jonah told God, “I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.”
I find this very weird.
What was Jonah’s problem? The other biblical prophets wanted people to change. Jonah did not.
Could it be that Jonah just liked to whine?
Poor Jonah. Isn’t it awful? You preached to the Ninevites and they listened. They changed their ways. They got right with God. How very sad for you, Jonah.
It’s all about you, isn’t it? You don’t care about that great city, Nineveh, “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…”
You don’t care because it’s all about you.
Thank God, God is not like Jonah. God saw beyond the ignorance of the Ninevites. God was big enough to change his mind. “When God saw what the people of Nineveh 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.”
He did not do it, and Jonah got really mad. Because Jonah had to be right. How much suffering and heartache happen because people need to be right? God doesn’t need to be right. Why do we?
God changed his mind. Why can’t we? Why can’t we love instead of judge? Why is it so important to be right?
The Book of Jonah is a strange little book. It’s one of my favorite books of the bible, because Jonah is about human nature.
The bottom line? Jonah chose to be right, while God chose compassion.
The lesson? Follow God’s example. Choose compassion.
We never learn what happens to Jonah. He’s out there in suspended animation: east of Nineveh, in a self-made booth, at the mercy of a withered bush, waiting to see what happens, hoping that God will destroy Nineveh, knowing that God will not, because God is merciful.
Jonah feels very sorry for himself.
God has been merciful to others when they didn’t deserve it. Don’t you just hate that? God gives mercy after mercy after mercy. It just ain’t right.
God has been merciful. That’s the way God is.
How very sad for Jonah.
How very fortunate for the rest of us.
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