Jonah became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, 'O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? 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. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.' And the Lord said, 'Is it right for you to be angry?' Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city.
The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, 'It is better for me to die than to live.'...
And God said to Jonah, 'Is it right for you to be angry about the bush? And he said, 'Yes, angry enough to die.' Then the Lord said, 'You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labour and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people, and also many animals?'
(Church in Wales Lectionary, New Revised Standard Version)
The trouble with Jonah is that he is good on judgement, but not so good on love! Having found the courage to deliver God's message to Nineveh - that calamity will befall the Assyrians in forty days time - Jonah goes outside the city and waits to see what will happen. The words 'forty days' indicate a period of time rather than forty actual days, and the time is usually one of trial or penance. When he sees that God has forgiven these dreadful people he is angry. He knows the way subject nations are treated, how those captured have their tongues torn out, along with other gruesome tortures. Jonah feels that the Assyrians deserve punishment, and perhaps he hoped they would not listen to God's message.
The people of Nineveh ask for forgiveness, and this opens their future to a new life. Centuries later God will offer his Son to the people of Israel and from him we learn about sin and forgiveness. Jesus is crucified, but instead of punishing humankind God offers forgiveness and invites them to His heavenly table. Jonah wants Nineveh to be punished and is far more concerned that the plant that sheltered him has died. He has pity for the plant, but not for the people. His priorities are wrong. God invites us as he invites Jonah to have compassion for all people, indeed to love all people, even our enemies; and he invites us to forgive others just as He forgives us.
as You forgive us our sin,
may we forgive others their sin.
Help us to have compassion for all people,
whether our enemy or our friend.
Help us to recognise that judgement can be sinful,
and that You call us to offer love not judgement.