Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Are You A Jonah, Too?
Whether you read the Bible or not, likely you’ve heard the story of Jonah, and you remember him as the guy who got swallowed by a whale for 3 days. Perhaps you may even remember that he went to Nineveh, a city of sinners and asked them in the name of God to repent, or they would be destroyed in 40 days --- and they did repent. But, do you know the rest of the story?
Perhaps you may remember how it came to be that Jonah was swallowed by the whale: God told him to go to Nineveh and tell them to repent --- and Jonah said no. In fact, Jonah went in the other direction and got on a ship to get away. But God wouldn’t let him go. A huge storm came up and the sailors wondered why God was so mad at them, and they determined it was because of Jonah, and so they tossed him overboard --- hence the whale having Jonah for dinner. But I guess Jonah was a tough old bird, and he gave the whale indigestion, so he spit him out after three days. And then God said again to Jonah: “Well? Now will you go to Nineveh and do as I ask?” And he did.
And so many of us remember the story of Jonah as being: 1) God working a miracle and Jonah living three days in a whale --- Hurray for God, and/or 2) Nineveh heeding the word of God and repenting of its sins and so God didn’t destroy it --- Hurray for the Ninevehites (well, it’s not really such a big deal, since they well remember what recently happened to the Pharoah, and now Jonah was preaching: “You’re next!” I wonder how much they were afraid of God, versus being sorry), and/or you remember that 3) Jonah was a stubborn old fool, but God’s will won out anyway --- Hurray for, well, I’m not sure to hurray for, but it seems like a good ending. But that WASN’T the ending …
It displeased Johan exceedingly, and he was angry. “I pray thee, Lord, is not this … why I made haste to flee, for I knew that thou are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” God was merciful to the Ninevehites, as Jonah well KNEW he would be, but Jonah didn’t want God to be merciful. Jonah wanted God to send down lightning bolts and destroy the evil city and people. After he preached to them to repent, “he sat outside the city till he should see what would become of the city.” He was waiting for the lightning bolts, that didn’t come. And we never do see Jonah as being happy, but only being a bitter man, because God wouldn’t do as Jonah wanted him to do.
The point raised in today’s Gospel about Jonah is that God can use anyone, even someone who doesn’t want to be used, for his good will. No matter what is going on in our lives, God can make use of us for good. None of us can ever say that we are bad, or that we are useless. God can make anything good, even us. But, a key point to remember is that just because GOD makes good of what we do, that does not make us good.
I think many of us are fooled by our own thoughts; we think we may be better than we are, or are perhaps “good enough.” Perhaps our friends say: “He goes to church on Sunday; what a good man.” Maybe they say: “Look at the nice family he has; surely he pleases God.” Or maybe they look at how hard we work to provide for our family and they say: “Doesn’t he use all the talents he has been given well? Surely God must be pleased.” And we hear their words, look at some of the results of our efforts --- and maybe even our prayers --- and think: “Yeh, they’re right. I’m a pretty good person.”
But we’re lying to ourselves. We won’t admit that we are much like Jonah. Perhaps there are good results from what we have done, but they are not results we have done. God made good of our efforts, but the results were not the results WE wanted. What we wanted, what we prayed for, often did not happen. And like Jonah, when we don’t get our way, we get mad.
I like the prayer of St. Francis. I think it summarizes the situation of Jonah, and often my situation. It begins: “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.” And then it goes on to ask that I might do things for the Lord: Where there is hate, let ME sow love, where injury—pardon, where doubt – faith, where despair – hope, where darkness – light, and where there is sadness – joy. It asks that I might do all those things for God, and that sounds very good --- if I could do them. But then the prayer goes further …
It asks that: I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console, to be understood, to be loved ---- it starts out by saying that I want to do things, but then says I don’t want to be paid for them. “For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.”
The Prayer of St. Francis doesn’t just ask God to help me to do things, it says I want no benefit but for my heart to change. I want to die to self. Jonah never got there. He grudgingly did things for God, and God made good of his efforts, but that didn’t make Jonah a good man, or even pleasing to God. He was an instrument of God, yes, but the Old Testament tells us that even the evil pharaoh was set in power so that God could use him, too.
It’s not enough that people think we are good people. In the end, it is not people who will judge us; it is God. And God sees our heart. Whether our prayers or works accomplish great things, or nothing, God sees our heart. God doesn’t want more Jonah’s who preach his word but don’t agree with it. That’s why Jesus commented on some of the people who worked miracles in his name that He didn’t know them. They just wanted the miracles done. They just wanted done what THEY willed, not what God willed.
Jonah could never get past what HE wanted, and he was angry with God for not giving him his way --- which he thought was a good way. Jonah wanted to define what was good and what was evil (like Adam). But that is for God to do, not us.
Seek to do HIS will, and you shall have eternal life. And if you don’t understand it, do it still, and Do Not Be Anxious.
Sometimes that’s a hard thing for US to swallow. We’d rather be like Jonah, and just grumble.