Day 32. WHEN YOU’RE UPSET ABOUT A VINE

Read Jonah 4:9-11. Again, Jonah wants to die. We could call it ‘DEATH WISH 2’. Jonah is ‘gutted’! He cares more about himself than he cares for 600,000 people in Nineveh. Like Soviet Dictator, Joseph Stalin, he believed a single death is a tragedy, but a million deaths are a statistic! But God won’t let him die now, nor Nineveh! Instead, he asks his callous servant Jonah two searching questions:

1. Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?’, with its unspoken rider, ‘…and yet feel nothing about Nineveh?’

Jonah heatedly replies, ‘Of course I’ve a right to be angry….damned angry!’ This response alone, rebukes our parallel, twisted reactions, and cold indifference. We cling to our comforts. We are more upset if the TV fails, the kitchen floods, or lose a book on the train and our wallet is stolen, than we ever would be about the impending fate of countless unbelievers all around us. Especially if they are ‘no goods’ – drunks, terrorists, noisy neighbours, pimps, or asylum seekers’

2. ‘Should I not be concerned about that great city?’, since  the vine was simply a few hours work for God (v.10),

But the Ninevites took decades for God to preserve, fashion and form – each individual a special project and ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’. Made in his image, loved and treasured, as all people are. Hence the haunting and final rebuke to Jonah’s narrow bigotry, selfishness, racism, and smug self-satisfaction. Feasting as we do on Gospel blessings while two-thirds of the world has never even tasted a morsel of them, we can all identify painfully with Jonah! God asks us in turn, ‘Should I not be concerned about that great city?’, for God cares for London also. ‘God our saviour wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.’(1 Tim. 2:2-3). The issue is, ‘Do we?’

Jonah’s silence is deafening! There’s no recorded reply from Jonah to God’s urgent and poignant question. The ending of the book is inconclusive and cryptic It leaves the reader hanging in midair, in breathless suspense, eager to know what happened to Nineveh and to Jonah. But why?

Perhaps because, to us and millions of others like us, who live in large cities that are overwhelmingly full of faceless, nameless, hopeless, and often homeless people, as well as hordes of delinquent children on crack or cocaine, broken homes, violent streets, and dying lives, all these problems are too big for us. We have our own lives to live, our own souls to save, without worrying too much about anybody else. And so, all too often, other people don’t matter that much to us. But this is never the case with God!

He knows every single one of those people by name. Every street, apartment block, and household – ‘Every child out playing at its own front door’ as poet Robin Mark expresses it in his moving song. While we want to save the whale and end seal culling, God wants to save the world, and stop child culling! The big question that’s meant to haunt and motivate all of us as we arrive at this thought-provoking climax of the Book of Jonah, is this:

“Can you and I sit in our sheltered churches and simply watch the world go to their deaths without knowing that Christ came from heaven to rescue them from Hell – in this life and the next?” If Hell is more than even a remote danger, God may well ‘blow our cover’ and ‘blow our minds’ also, with the two most penetrating questions he ever asked, and which Jonah may never have properly answered.

Jonah cared much more about a sheltering vine, but God cares more about the exposed, endangered 100,000’s of citizens in Nineveh. 

Jonah felt deeply about his withered specially created plant, but God cares more deeply still about his precious specially created people everywhere, including all the people we know, work with, live near, or meet on a regular basis.

The most haunting question posed by Jonah is this, ‘Do you care deeply too?’