But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. So he prayed to the Lord , and said, “Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!”
The story of Jonah in the Bible may be relatively short compared to the rest of scripture, but there are many lessons to be learned from him. The second chapter of his story lays out the prayer he offered to the Lord while he spent three days and nights in the belly of a fish. It is the plea of a man who recognizes his sin, what he specifically refers to as his affliction, and he is asking God to be merciful and deliver him from that place. It is the place where he came to be as a result of his own disobedient actions, and that is key. Jonah recognized that he fell way short of God’s standard, that his disobedience was evil in the sight of the Lord. It is from that admission of imperfection that he cries out for mercy.
The irony of Jonah’s story is that it begins by telling us that he was willingly disobedient to the call of God. The story starts with him being a bad son. He does not want to go to Nineveh and deliver God’s message because he fears that the Lord will have mercy and actually redeem those evil people. In Jonah’s eyes they are not worthy of it because they are too far gone. Yet, even in his clear fallen state, he believes he is worth God’s pouring mercy on him in his time of need. Jonah’s pride kept him not only from having compassion on those lost people but also from recognizing his own lowly state. He was no more worthy of the mercy he desired from God than they were. In fact, this great God he served indeed poured his mercy on them and forgave them.
Imagine the pride of Jonah to think that his standard might be better or higher than the Lord’s! We also walk in that same pride at times, and it can keep us from fulfilling the call of God because we just do not think some people are worth the work. We think they are lost causes. Compassion moves us to desire for others the grace and mercy we have received no matter who they are. Pride moves us to decide who is worth the work even when God’s word clearly indicates that we all start in the same place. Seeing others as better than ourselves instead of worse will move us to exercise a compassion which cannot coexist with sinful pride. Father, teach us to see ourselves in others and to see others in ourselves, confessing that we are no better or more deserving of your mercy and grace.