The prophet Jonah has a tough time dealing with God’s love for his enemies. The book of Jonah takes everything that a good Israelite knew to be true and turns it upside down. Jonah hated the Ninevites. If he had his way, the city would be destroyed and Israel would be the better for it. But, God is God, and sometimes God asks us to do what we really don’t want to do. For Jonah, the call came to go to Nineveh, to cry out against it and to warn the residents of impending destruction. They would be overthrown and their way of life radically changed, should they survive.
Jonah fled, as those whom God calls are prone to do. He fled as far as he could away from God’s voice. He left thinking that if he went far enough away, God would find someone else to go to Nineveh. At first it looked like Jonah may have succeeded. He was able to head in the opposite direction, finding a boat that was setting sail to Tarshish. He reckoned however, without the persistent call of God. A storm rises up. It is a deadly storm. All the sailors cry out to their collective and independent gods. But the storm continues. They throw cargo overboard. By now they have nothing else they can do, so the crew casts lots in hopes of finding out who has brought the evil upon them. When the lot lands on Jonah, he doesn’t hesitate to take responsibility. He knows whom he is fleeing. It is his first discovery that one cannot run away from God or God’s call. Believing himself to blame, he tells the crew to toss him into the sea. Much to his surprise he finds himself in an unlikely rescue. Swallowed by a large fish, he lives in its belly, fervently praying. Rescued once more when the fish spews him onto dry land, again he hears the call of God to go to Nineveh. Fresh from being rescued, Jonah reluctantly goes. To his dismay, the people take to heart his words. The king even issues a decree that all must fast and pray, wearing sackcloth as a sign of repentance.
Still Jonah hopes to see the destruction of the city. He waits for God to act. When God doesn’t overthrow the city, Jonah gets upset. One of Jonah’s problems with God is the he thinks God is too compassionate. He complains to God, that he fled in the first place, because he just knew that God would show mercy and he does not want mercy shown. “That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.” (Jonah 4:2-3) Jonah has a hard time with compassion. He has a difficult time with love for people who are not like him. He reeks of prejudice. God chooses mercy. Jonah chooses hate. God chooses compassion, Jonah waits for destruction.
As we inhibit this planet called earth, we have choices in how we respond to each other. We can let our hearts harden into hate, or we can learn how our differences enrich us. We already know where God is. God is on the side of mercy. God is on the side of compassion. God is also on the side of those whom God calls, reaching out and pulling us back into God’s compassionate love, even or especially when we run away.