Reflections on the Prophets: Jonah 4

By Bill Mefford

Each week (hopefully), I will look at a chapter in book of the Minor Prophets, moving through them chronologically. As it should be with the Prophets, I will reflect on what they are saying in their context and relate it to ours. 

But this was very displeasing to Jonah and he became angry. (Jonah 4:1)

While the third chapter was filled with astonishing success, the fourth is filled more by anger at the success, which seems at first at least, to be equally astonishing. Think about it. Jonah walks to the middle of Nineveh and simply says, "Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" And after that rather ambiguous statement, the city, including the King who only heard Jonah's message secondhand, all repented! How many pastors of churches can say they have experienced even a fraction of this kind of response? I would venture the number is fairly small, if any at all. 

So, there must be excitement right? Jonah's gotta be walking on air? Nope. Not for Jonah. He is pissed. 

Jonah blames God for the success of his message to Nineveh, reminding God this is why he fled to Tarshish and ended up in the belly of a whale in the first place. And the reason he is so miffed is because he knew all along that God was merciful. He knew he could not count on God to be as judgmental and condescending as he himself was. Jonah is so angry and upset that he is ready to die. 

I initially want to tell Jonah to chill out, but I kind of understand what he is feeling. It kind of sucks when God does not share our angry biases and judgments against entire people groups.

It's gonna suck for the evangelical leaders who have become palace priests for donald trump and who hate Muslims and LGBTQ people and liberals and so many others who do not fit their tightly wound theological dogma, when (and if) they get to Heaven and see who is there. Likewise, a lot of liberals are gonna be surprised at the same thing. 

The difference between most of us and Jonah is only that Jonah got to see firsthand in a powerful way that God's mercy extends to all of creation, not just Israel; not just those he affiliates with. Jonah got a first row seat to witness God's love in action. And now he is so depressed he wants to die. 

Jonah is fairly dramatic in my book, but he also shows how deep he is shaped by his nationalism, his judgments of other people groups, his biases. His faith is so conditioned by his culture that when he is faced by a God who is not confined by any of Jonah's biases that Jonah would rather remain bound by his discriminatory attitudes than the generous and boundless love of God. God's love triumphs over our cultural prisons we choose to remain trapped in, even when faced by God's love being manifest among the people we hate or have "othered.". 

When I look at the United Methodist Church today I see conservative evangelical "Christians" who, like Jonah, cannot stand to see God's merciful presence working among and through LGBTQ people. They are opting to remain in the prisons of their judgment and condescension rather than recognize that God is moving among and through LGBTQ leaders in the church. Conservative evangelical "leaders" have chosen to persecute LGBTQ leaders in the church because they have opted for the imprisonment at the hands of their own discrimination rather than join in the liberation of a boundless church.

When I look at donald trump's evangelical base supporters who glory in his anti-immigrant and Islamaphobic xenophobia and racism and try to put a positive spin on it by calling it, "America First," I see Jonah's nationalism as well. Jonah was so blinded by nationalism that he preferred death to seeing the dignity and integrity of all of God's creation. Similarly, trump and his evangelical base follow in the footsteps of Jonah, preferring to remain trapped in their nationalist prison, the very thing gives them meaning and identity. But trump and his evangelical base put their own salvation in peril for their worship of nationalism. 

Simply put, you cannot be America First and a follow of Jesus at the same time. You just can't. 

God desired not only to save the people (and the animals too!) of Nineveh, God wanted to save Jonah. 

God wants not only to save the world today. God wants desperately to save the United States for we are lost, especially when so many of those who so lavishly and loudly claim to follow God also cry "America First!" It is the latter where their heart resides; not the former. 

May we all lay down our judgments and the things that so easily entangle us and may we set our sights on the boundless love of God. 

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