On Nov. 20, Erica Littlewolf, program coordinator of the Indigenous Visioning Circle for Mennonite Central Committee Central States, sat down to talk with Hannah Heinzekehr […]
“When God saw what they (Ninevites) did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened. But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, ‘O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home?… I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.’” Jonah 3:10-4:3
I wonder why God’s mercy and compassion toward Nineveh made Jonah so angry. Was it because this story reveals just how far God’s compassion goes? In Jeremiah 18:7-8, God said to Jeremiah, “There are times, Jeremiah, when I threaten to uproot, tear down and destroy a nation or kingdom. But if that nation I threaten stops doing wrong, I will cancel the destruction I intended to do to it.”
The story of Jonah answers this question. Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria, Israel’s greatest enemy. Certainly God’s compassion would not extend to Nineveh. The destruction of Nineveh would mean the elimination of an enemy. Jonah found out just how far God’s compassion goes when his biggest fear came true: “I knew that if Nineveh repented you would change your mind and show compassion.” In Jonah’s mind, Nineveh survived to fight another day and this would be costly for Israel. In 722, Assyria did destroy the northern kingdom of Israel and for most of the next 100 years Judah and Jerusalem were under Assyria’s control.
Jonah sat down at a place east of the city to wait and see what God would do. God provided a vine to grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head. The next day God provided a worm that chewed the vine so that it withered. A scorching east wind and the blazing sun beat on Jonah’s head and Jonah became angry. God asked Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?”
This was a question that challenged Jonah to look within himself. The answer to his anger was to see Nineveh as God does. What a frightening prospect. God’s compassion toward Nineveh challenged Jonah to treat his enemies as God treats them, with fairness and compassion.
We live in unsettling times. Our nation and the church are polarized and divided. I find it easy to get caught up in the finger pointing and blaming that characterizes so much of our country right now. My heart aches at the divisions happening within the Mennonite Church. I am fearful with the rhetoric of hate. I am angry at the violence being directed toward our people of color, the negative attitudes toward immigrants living among us and the talk of building secure walls to keep the “other” out.
I am challenged to take a hard look at myself. In today’s Psalm (51) the Psalmist calls upon God’s great compassion to cleanse us from our sin. What is the sin that keeps me from following Jesus in today’s world?
Confession is an act of resilience making it possible for us to realign ourselves again with God’s Kingdom ways as taught by Jesus. Then like Paul we will be able to say, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed…” Romans 1:16. Can we trust the righteousness of God to guide our living in these days?
Tim Detweiler lives in Washington, Iowa and is married to Carol (Bachman). Tim & Carol have three married children and six grandchildren. Tim is Conference Minister for Ministerial Leadership in Central Plains Mennonite Conference. He served as a pastor for 29 years and has been in full time conference ministry work since 2010.
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