Mercy without measure – Wednesday, 27th week in ordinary time- Jonah 4: 1-11
How well do we know God? Jonah for one knew God very well and that accounts for his tantrums all through this book. Jonah knew God so well that he not only knew that God is merciful but he knew the inner depths, the quality of that mercy. This is why in today’s passage he says, “I knew that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger, rich in clemency, loath to punish.” Jonah knew that God’s heart would melt if Nineveh, the hated enemy of his people, would as much as blink; and blink they did.
The prophets of Israel were for the most part nationalistic; God was the Lord of Israel and, through his prophets, addressed the chosen people. But in addition, as Jonah’s; book makes clear, God was also profoundly concerned with the behaviour and lot of all mankind. The violence and evil of the gentile citizens of Nineveh were of no less concern to God than was the evil of his own people.
Yet the mercy of God always seeks to turn aside evil and offer mercy to those who repent. The story of Jonah Is the story of a reluctant prophet who was sent to Nineveh to demonstrates the concern of God for gentiles and the possibility of gentiles repenting and finding God’s mercy. Thus, for the gentile reader of the Old Testament, the book of Jonah reveals the grand nature of a compassionate and universal God. Ironically, The Assyrians did what the Israelites took a long time to do; repent at the first invitation from God.
So Jonah does not only highlight God’s mercy but a particular quality of that mercy; a mercy that is unmerited and above all a mercy that God is free to give it to whomever he pleases. This book is an excellent book to study the theology behind ‘divine mercy.’ God would not be pleased by mere recitation of prayers if our lives mirror the behaviour of older brother in the parable of the Prodigal son, or for that matter that the attitude of Jonah.
Jonah, like some of us, was frustrated that God should save a sinful and hated enemy. To thwart God’s plan, he not only made several attempts to run away, to be thrown into the sea but now asks God to “kill him”. He would rather not live to see such a day when God’s mercy would flow like a river to all.
Yet the mere scorching sun over his head is reason for him to be angry at the lack of God’s providential care for him. It seems like our reluctant prophet suffers from short term memory loss. If that be so, then God asks, “You cared about the plant, which you did not work for and which you did not grow, which appeared overnight and perished overnight. And should not I care about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not yet know their right hand from their left, and many beasts as well!”
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