The Least, First

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He doesn’t even hate his enemies! (Readings for 21 Sep 08)

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Jonah has pity on the gourd

Steinhardt: Jonah has pity on the gourd

The other thing the whale swallows in the book of Jonah is the story.

“Area man”—as The Onion often lampoons—would say if interviewed: “Jonah, yeah, that’s the one about the guy who gets swallowed by a whale.”  See?  Fraternity boys eat goldfish, only in reverse. No story.

The whale, though, is a bit player (ho ho).  Jonah, the protagonist and representative of the religious “in” group, is an ethnocentric bigot. God sends him to tell a despised enemy nation to repent; the nation does. Jonah hates it.  Burning sulfur was more what he had in mind.  Big disappointment.

Big story, too.  Apparently wanting to see one’s enemies dead rather than blessed is not a new way of resisting God.

I’m reminded of the German theologian who said, “God doesn’t hate my enemies; he doesn’t even hate his enemies!”

May we humans become so.  Read the climax of the Jonah story, along with this week’s Sunday readings, just below.

God saw what they had done, that they had turned away from their evil lives. He did change his mind about them. What he said he would do to them he didn’t do.

Jonah was furious. He lost his temper. He yelled at God, “God! I knew it-when I was back home, I knew this was going to happen! That’s why I ran off to Tarshish! I knew you were sheer grace and mercy, not easily angered, rich in love, and ready at the drop of a hat to turn your plans of punishment into a program of forgiveness! “So, God, if you won’t kill them, kill me! I’m better off dead!”

God said, “What do you have to be angry about?”

But Jonah just left. He went out of the city to the east and sat down in a sulk. He put together a makeshift shelter of leafy branches and sat there in the shade to see what would happen to the city.

God arranged for a broad-leafed tree to spring up. It grew over Jonah to cool him off and get him out of his angry sulk. Jonah was pleased and enjoyed the shade. Life was looking up.

But then God sent a worm. By dawn of the next day, the worm had bored into the shade tree and it withered away. The sun came up and God sent a hot, blistering wind from the east. The sun beat down on Jonah’s head and he started to faint. He prayed to die: “I’m better off dead!”

Then God said to Jonah, “What right do you have to get angry about this shade tree?”

Jonah said, “Plenty of right. It’s made me angry enough to die!”
God said, “What’s this? How is it that you can change your feelings from pleasure to anger overnight about a mere shade tree that you did nothing to get? You neither planted nor watered it. It grew up one night and died the next night. So, why can’t I likewise change what I feel about Nineveh from anger to pleasure, this big city of more than 120,000 childlike people who don’t yet know right from wrong, to say nothing of all the innocent animals?” – Jonah 3:10-4:11

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Proper 20 (25) •September 21, 2008

Exodus 16:2-15 or Jonah 3:10-4:11

Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45 or Psalm 145:1-8

Philippians 1:21-30

Matthew 20:1-16

A Story About Workers

“God’s kingdom is like an estate manager who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. They agreed on a wage of a dollar a day, and went to work.

“Later, about nine o’clock, the manager saw some other men hanging around the town square unemployed. He told them to go to work in his vineyard and he would pay them a fair wage. They went.

“He did the same thing at noon, and again at three o’clock. 6At five o’clock he went back and found still others standing around. He said, “Why are you standing around all day doing nothing?”

“They said, “Because no one hired us.’

“He told them to go to work in his vineyard.

“When the day’s work was over, the owner of the vineyard instructed his foreman, “Call the workers in and pay them their wages. Start with the last hired and go on to the first.’

“Those hired at five o’clock came up and were each given a dollar. 10When those who were hired first saw that, they assumed they would get far more. But they got the same, each of them one dollar. Taking the dollar, they groused angrily to the manager, “These last workers put in only one easy hour, and you just made them equal to us, who slaved all day under a scorching sun.’

“He replied to the one speaking for the rest, “Friend, I haven’t been unfair. We agreed on the wage of a dollar, didn’t we? So take it and go. I decided to give to the one who came last the same as you. Can’t I do what I want with my own money? Are you going to get stingy because I am generous?’

“Here it is again, the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first.”

— Jesus (Matthew 20:1-16)

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God. … I am so pleased that you have continued on in this with us … There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears. …

So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.

Now, about the trouble:
I want to report to you, friends, that my imprisonment here has had the opposite of its intended effect. Instead of being squelched, the Message has actually prospered. All the soldiers here, and everyone else too, found out that I’m in jail because of this Messiah. That piqued their curiosity, and now they’ve learned all about him. Not only that, but most of the Christians here have become far more sure of themselves in the faith than ever, speaking out fearlessly about God, about the Messiah.

It’s true that some here preach Christ because with me out of the way, they think they’ll step right into the spotlight. … Their motives are bad. They see me as their competition, and so the worse it goes for me, the better–they think–for them.

So how am I to respond? I’ve decided that I really don’t care about their motives, whether mixed, bad, or indifferent. Every time one of them opens his mouth, Christ is proclaimed, so I just cheer them on! And I’m going to keep that celebration going because I know how it’s going to turn out. … everything he wants to do in and through me will be done. … everything happening to me in this jail only serves to make Christ more accurately known, regardless of whether I live or die. They didn’t shut me up; they gave me a pulpit! … I can’t lose. …

So I plan to be around awhile, companion to you as your growth and joy in this life of trusting God continues …

Meanwhile, live in such a way that you are a credit to the Message of Christ. … Stand united, singular in vision, contending for people’s trust in the Message, the good news … Your courage and unity will show them what they’re up against…

There’s far more to this life than trusting in Christ.

There’s also suffering for him.

And the suffering is as much a gift as the trusting.

— Paul the Apostle (Matthew 20:1-16)

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

David’s Praise

I lift you high in praise, my God, O my King! and I’ll bless your name into eternity.

2 I’ll bless you every day,
and keep it up from now to eternity.
3 God is magnificent; he can never be praised enough.
There are no boundaries to his greatness.
4 Generation after generation stands in awe of your work;
each one tells stories of your mighty acts.
5 Your beauty and splendor have everyone talking;
I compose songs on your wonders.
6 Your marvelous doings are headline news;
I could write a book full of the details of your greatness.
7 The fame of your goodness spreads across the country;
your righteousness is on everyone’s lips.

8 God is all mercy and grace-
not quick to anger, is rich in love.

—Psalm 145:1-8

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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Written by Monte

September 18, 2008 at 7:58 pm

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