God humbles the arrogant and prideful

Published 9:43 pm Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Jack AlveyAlvey is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

We’ve all heard the story of Jonah –– at least the part about how he prays his way out of the belly of a whale. But the story is much more wonderfully complicated than that.

Jonah is a story about how God humbles the arrogant and prideful by showing goodness and mercy to the least deserving.

Jonah is a reluctant prophet who God has chosen to call the people of Nineveh to repentance. In order to put this into context, this might be like asking a Jewish person to go to Nazi Germany and call the people there to repentance. So of course, Jonah tries to run away from the job.

As he tries to flee from God, Jonah flags down some local sailors who allow him on the ship but things get worse – a storm arises. When the sailors find out that Jonah’s disobedience from God caused the storm, they resolve to throw him overboard. And like a scene from the popular Disney movie Moana, God serves up a big fish to swallow Jonah.

For three days, Jonah prays to God and asks for deliverance. Finally, the fish spits Jonah back onto dry ground. 

Again, God tells Jonah to preach to Nineveh. So, he goes to Nineveh and preaches the worst sermon on record. But for whatever reason, the people of Nineveh are inspired. They repent and return to the Lord and have a big celebration.

Now, one might think Jonah would at least be proud of himself for giving a sermon that turn the hearts of this people. But Jonah has a different response.

When Jonah learns that God will not destroy the city after all, he says, “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.”

Jonah is mad at God because God doesn’t give the evil people Nineveh what they deserve – that is the wrath of God. Jonah is mad because he wants to see the people who killed and oppressed his people suffer.

So, Jonah goes off and pouts by himself because God isn’t being fair. Jonah even says he is angry enough to die.

The story leaves us with the thought, if we are still bent on fairness and deservedness, then we will end up like Jonah – a sour man who spends the rest of his life in a scorching heat, pouting in a timeout chair of his own devising. 

Ultimately, the lesson tells us that God isn’t ruled by the law of fairness. Rather, God is ruled by the law of mercy – a law that isn’t interested in deservedness, a law will go to any measure to rescue the lost and wayward, a law that will make the righteous swallow their pride or else.

May God’s goodness and mercy humble you when you are proud and lift you up when you are low.