The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.Jonah 1:1-3
The book of Jonah begins with a prophet refusing his divine mission and going the opposite way. Growing up I always understood this to be because he was lazy or contrary or just plain disobedient. Most likely he didn’t want to see his enemies repent and be saved. You see, the detail in God’s message for Jonah that we often miss is that God is choosing to warn Nineveh ahead of time, and He would only do that if He wanted to give them a chance to change their fate. This is precisely what Jonah, an Israelite threatened by the growing Assyrian Empire, doesn’t want the Assyrians to get: a chance to change. Like so many of us, Jonah wants God to be merciful but on his terms not God’s. And like so many of us Jonah doesn’t see that the very thing he resists is the very thing that can save him: God’s mercy to the least deserving.
There’s another irony in what Jonah decides to do. In sending an Israelite prophet to another country, God is showing that He isn’t some local deity with strict parish boundaries but the God of all people. And in resistance to this Jonah tries to run away – to where? Away from God? Away from His mercy?
I am like Jonah because I want God to act on my terms. I am like him because I want a mercy for myself that I do not dispense to others. I am like Jonah because, in refusing to be a bearer of mercy to others, I fail to experience it fully myself. And this is the root of anger.
If indeed anger has a single root. In my experience it feels more like a rhizome, sending out shoots in many, tangled directions until it is nearly impossible to remove. Perhaps it isn’t for me to uproot. Perhaps, like Jonah, I just need to stop and listen, or stop and be: to listen to the word of mercy God has given, and to be a person shaped by that mercy.
Advent is about expectancy – expecting God to act in saving us. But that expectancy has to begin with us reorienting our expectations to align with Him. And so we stop running and we listen to what God has to say.