“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.” (Jonah 4:1)
Do we feel troubled when others are getting better? Does it displease us to see the repentance of others? Jonah was not happy with the repentance of the people of Nineveh because he had much rather see them perish. As wrong as he might be in thinking this way, he describes God perfectly in the following verse.
So he prayed to the Lord, and said, “Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm (Jonah 4:2).
Jonah’s heart is filled with anger towards the Ninevites, and he does not want to see their salvation. Although he was a prophet, a man of God and a man of prayer, his heart was full of hatred because he knew their sins, and was not able to imagine the people of Nineveh being good. Unlike God, who is merciful and can see that those who are bad might become good even if it is in the last moments of their life. Similarly, we should not judge others who we think might be bad, because God has another vision of them.
“And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?” (Jonah 4:11)
God spoke to Jonah with love, even though he was resistant. He even created a plant for him to shelter him from the sun as he sat outside the city sulking, waiting for its destruction. The next day the plant died through a worm that the Lord sent, and Jonah got angry again. In a subtle way, God showed Jonah that while he was upset about the plant that withered away, how could God not be upset about an entire nation of his own creation perishing? Jonah did not even work for the plant, but was sad that it withered. God has created us all, and does not want anyone of us to “wither” away in our sins.
God knows our weaknesses and he is merciful to us regardless. He knows that sometimes we cannot discern our “left hand and our right,” and yet he is still caring for us and guiding us towards salvation.
In the Book of Jonah, God wants us to know an important fact: that the prophets were not of a different nature but were people “with a nature like ours” (James 5:17), having weaknesses, shortcomings and faults, and it was possible for them to fall like us. The only thing was that the grace of God worked in them and gave them power. It was not their power but the power of the Holy Spirit working in their weakness, that the power may be of God and not of us, according to the Apostle’s words (2 Cor. 4:7).
Jonah the Prophet was one of the weak persons of the world whom God chose to put to shame the mighty ones (1 Cor. 1:27). He had faults and he had virtues, and the Lord chose him despite his faults, worked through him, in him and with him, and designated him to be a great and saintly prophet, the dust of whose feet we are unworthy of. In so doing God also shows us that He can work with us and use our weakness as He did with Jonah.
— Pope Shenouda III
- From Jonah 4 and Summary of a Sermon by Father Daoud Lamei
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