The past nine weeks we have been studying the Beatitudes in worship. We have heard the word “blessed” quite a few times. We’ve thought about what it means to be “blessed.” We know that God gives blessings to those we might not expect. As humans, we tend to see things in binary terms: us vs. them; clean vs. unclean; blessed vs. not blessed. Fortunately for us, that’s not how God works.
I keep thinking about the story of Jonah. We know Jonah’s story: God told Jonah to sail to the city of Nineveh and warn them that God was not happy with their wicked ways. Instead, Jonah tried to flee to Tarshish. Long story short: Jonah gets swallowed by a fish, prays for forgiveness and is then vomited out. That’s the part of the story that most of us remember, but it’s the part that happens next that I find most interesting.
Jonah finally delivers God’s message to Nineveh, and the people (and animals) fast and repent. God spares them. Jonah then gets really, really angry. He doesn’t appreciate that the formerly wicked people (and animals) of Nineveh are spared. Jonah, as my mom would say, throws a hissy fit and yells at God. He basically says, “See, this is why I didn’t want to even come here in the first place. I knew you would spare them because you are gracious and merciful. You might as well just kill me here, because this is ridiculous.” Jonah can’t handle that Nineveh is now being treated by God in a fair and merciful way. Jonah can’t celebrate the blessing of the 120,000 people (plus animals) of the city. Nope. He’s mad that God is blessing this city that doesn’t even follow all the ways of the God of Israel. They don’t play by the same rules he does, and they still get God’s blessing and favor.
So Jonah pouts. God causes a plant to grow over Jonah to give him shade as he sits outside in his discontent. Jonah is happy about the plant, but then it dies overnight, and he throws another temper tantrum. “But, God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?’ And he said, ‘Yes, angry enough to die.’ Then the Lord said, ‘You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:9-11)
The Book of Jonah ends there. We don’t know what happens next, but I love the image of God reminding Jonah that God cares about all of creation, not only people exactly like Jonah. God’s blessings are poured out upon those we might not expect—like the people and animals of Nineveh. I like to think that Jonah learned his lesson. I hope that he returned home humbled and more willing to celebrate the blessings that God has for everyone, not just those we expect.
My hope for all of us is that we are able to be grateful for God’s blessing on our lives and to be thankful in the moment. The next time we realize that God also blesses those not like us, I hope that, instead of getting mad that God loves them too, we rejoice with them and praise God for blessings.