Jonah 3:10 - 4:11
10When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
4But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. 2He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? 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. 3And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
5Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city. 6The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. 7But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. 8When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” 9But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” 10Then 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. 11And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”
20“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3When he went out about nine o”clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5When he went out again about noon and about three o”clock, he did the same. 6And about five o”clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9When those hired about five o”clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
(Sermon preached Sept 21 at Augustana Lutheran, Denver, Co)
You have to love a Bible story where the least interesting thing about it is that some guy gets swallowed by a big fish and is spit back up on dry land. It’s the image we remember most from Jonah. Memorialized on the pages of illustrated children’s Bibles, nursery wallpaper and felt boards. We think of Jonah and we think of being in the belly of a big fish, after all Jonah in the whale is a great image. I guess Jonah throwing a temper tantrum, Jonah as he who would rather die than have God be merciful to those whom Jonah finds distasteful, basically Jonah as bigot, … those images are just not great baby quilt material.
So, basically God comes to Jonah and tells him that the stench of Ninevah’s wikedness has wafted all the way up to heaven and God needs Jonah to please tell them to knock it off. So Jonah high tails it in the exact opposite direction from the despised ninevah. He runs as far as he can from his task taking the role of reluctant prophet farther than most. And in our reading for today Jonah tells us why he ran from God. It was not because of low self esteem. It was not because of laziness or even the fact that he didn’t agree that the Ninevites should be warned. We are told in verse 2 exactly why he ran away. Because he knew that God was gracious and merciful slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Yep. That’s why he ran. That’s a biiiig problem, a God like that. Why? Because that kind of God is really hard to manage.
We, like Jonah flee in our own ways from a God that is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Having a God we can appease, to whom we can offer correct sacrifice…the sacrifice of our money and our peity and our goodness and our time on church council and ….well, having that kind of God is just more… manageable on our part. We can take things into our own hands and know where we stand. But having a God who is gracious and merciful slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love? Well, how do we know where we stand and more importantly where we stand in relation to where others stand? Because that’s how we really know our own value.
One way to manage one’s standing in God’s eyes is to point out the unworthiness of others. Putting ourselves in the position of the laborers in the field or from our gospel reading we see that indignation is pretty effortless really. We point at our own Ninevites. Our own Jonny-come-latelys. It’s easier to be indignant at the injustice of the “other” the lazy the infidel, the freeloader getting the same pay than it is to sit in the suffocating silence of the fact that we are all beggars. All of us. The church council, the person who never gives any of their time and money to the church, just shows up to worship like it’s free or something. Those of us who are faithful to our spouses and those of us who cheat. Those who pay all their taxes and those who evade them. We all sin and fall short. All beggars at the table of God’s grace.
I wonder about our impulse toward pointing the finger at those who are less worthy, those who unlike us have not pulled themselves up by their own spiritual or financial bootstraps. I wonder if the temptation to point to those who rank lower in our little Meritocracy of righteousness isn’t just an age old distraction technique. Because the busier we are stoning the woman caught in adultery the less we have to look at which of our own sins are being written in the dirt.
Managing our own worth and value - That can be a real curse of wealth and privilege. The curse of those who have been given so much is Endless self-justification. It can feel like a full time job, self-justifying - Because the alternative, accepting God’s mercy is the same as admitting that I need it. I’d rather think I earn my keep than think I’ve been given something I don’t deserve. It’s easier that way. More manageable. The truth is, it’s painful. Being loved for who you really are, good and bad. It can seem easier to try and maintain a ledger of righteousness for ourselves and others…always knowing where we stand based either on our own efforts or on how we think we’re doing compared to others.
We come to this honestly you know. There are lots of messages in our culture about where our value comes from – namely what we produce and what we consume, what we own. But in God’s Kingdom, the world according to God, our true value and how God relates to us is not actually contingent on what we produce or consume. It’s a crazy economy of the unearned. In the economy of the unearned – In the world according to God The last shall be first and the first shall be last. My friend Debbie says that this line from Matthew is like a little bomb that Jesus throws out into the human competition extravaganza. I guess our little meritocracy gets blown to bits by this little explosion of God’s a rational mercy. It inverts what the world according to US looks like.
The landowner in the parable for today pays according to how he values the workers. Our value is simply not based in what we produce and consume but based in the fact that we are all the beloved children of God. There is a gal hanging out at House for All Sinners and Saints, the mission development I serve who is totally unchurched didn’t grow up Christian at all and yet said something recently which is such a beautiful synopsis of what Grace means although she didn’t use that term. She told me that she was riding her bike the other day when all of the sudden she realized that there was nothing she could do or not do that would add to or detract from her value. It’s true you know… for us and for everyone else. Even those who rank lower and higher in the ledger of righteousness we all seem to keep. Even our enemies. That’s what really sent Jonah over the edge…he even becomes a bit of a drama queen. I would rather die, Jonah says, then to live in a world where my enemies aren’t punished for their sins. Yet, on the cross God says “I’d rather die than be in the sin accounting business any more”. The fact is, we have a God who is gracious and merciful. Slow to anger. And abounding in steadfast love for Jonah and the Ninevites and the hard workers and the slackers and for me and for you. So much for the meritocracy. So put away the ledgers and come to the feast, all the other beggars are waiting for you.