It was never about the whale…

by DanWolgemuth on December 3, 2021

I think I’ve gotten the story wrong for years. You know, the story of Jonah. The story about a lead actor with a sea creature in a supporting role. The following two verses of scripture sum up the distilled version of nearly every Jonah account.

And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. (1:17)

And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land. (2:10)

Who of us doesn’t love a good story about a swallowing and a vomiting?

Yet… I can’t help but believe that I have picked the wrong two verses as hooks to hang my Jonah lesson on. Certainly, these verses are less suitable for animation and presentation, but they are deeply revealing, and frankly, profoundly relevant.

This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. So he complained to the Lord about it: Didnt I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. (Jonah 4:1-2)

It is highly unlikely that I will ever experience aquatic consumption, and even less likely that I will encounter the regurgitation aligned with that event. But make no mistake, the two verses from the 4th chapter hit me squarely between the eyes, and on a daily basis.

Selective compassion. That’s the diagnosis for Jonah, and for me as well.

I love to talk about, preach, write and proclaim the profound virtue of God’s compassion and mercy. I speak words of gratitude for the evidence in my own life. But… my personal compassion has boundaries. Lines that mark the limits of my love and grace.

Love me. But don’t love them.

Be gracious to me. But save your breath on them.

Extend abundant mercy and grace on those that are a part of my tribe. But, whatever you do, don’t be gracious to that crew.

God is compassionate. He is slow to anger and overflowing in resilient and durable love.

To prostitutes and celibates. To rich and poor. To scholars and fools. To Jews and Gentiles. To students of the Law, and to the demon possessed. To zealots and tax collectors. To conservatives and liberals. In Jerusalem and in Nineveh.

What about me? Am I as compassionate? Is selective compassion the diagnosis of my life and living?

Do my prayers for good, and not for evil bump into the boundary of my own prejudice? Does anger and resentment stir inside of me when I see God extend grace to those to whom I won’t?

It was never about a whale. It was always about the unfathomable depths of God’s love, grace and forgiveness. And that is even more incomprehensible than a man-eating fish. Compassion. Wrapped in strips of cloth. Jesus… compassion in the flesh.  On it’s way to Nineveh, whether I like it or not.

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