Jonah’s Intolerance

Wednesday of the First Week of Lent: a reading from the Book of Jonah

Jonah is four chapters long. We all know the story of Jonah and the whale, how Jonah ran away from God’s command to “Set out for the great city of Nineveh and preach against it”; how a storm came up and Jonah was tossed overboard to calm the raging sea; how he was swallowed by “a large fish.” It is, in many ways, a humorous story and one that children love.

Chapter One relates how Jonah runs away from God and is swallowed by the fish (our whale); Chapter Two is Jonah’s Psalm of Thanksgiving for being saved; Chapter Three is Jonah preaching and Nineveh’s complete conversion; and Chapter Four (which we rarely hear) is Jonah’s frustration that “God repented of the evil that he had threatened to do” and how this was “greatly displeasing to Jonah…” After all, he’d not wanted to leave his country in the first place. So what’s the point? Jonah is angry and goes out into the countryside, builds himself a hut, and sulks.

God causes a gourd plant to grow to shade Jonah and the next day causes a worm to eat the plant and destroy it. Jonah is once again angry. But God calls him to pay attention to his actions: Jonah was angry about a plant dying but showed no concern about a whole city dying. Even a prophet needs to learn the value of reconciliation over retribution.

We live in a pretty intolerant time. Great tragedies may bring us together, but division returns. We can’t talk to each other about our differing philosophies, we can only shout. We can only find fault. We can’t even have reasonable differences of opinion with family members or friends. We are intolerant of one another. 

Notice the ways intolerance enters your mind today. Be conscious of the way you judge others for not believing or acting as you do. Perhaps the universal mercy is much larger than we can possibly imagine or imitate, but we can practice.

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