The Human Pettiness of Jonah and the Mercy of God

Jonah sulking because of the mercy of God

The first reading today this week is from the Book of Jonah.  The following is from a blog I did last year on the metaphors contained in Jonah that are applicable to me.

Jonah is one of my favorite books from the Hebrew Bible, both for its brilliant writing style and because I can very much relate to it. Jonah is a very short postexilic writing, and its literary style is both parable and satire.

The story is about a disobedient, narrow-minded prophet who is called to deliver a message of repentance to the city of Ninevah, the one-time capital of the Assyrian Empire, which had conquered Israel and destroyed Jerusalem. As such, Jonah had a right to be angry at Ninevah, at least according to human standards. Jonah ignored his prophetic call and fled westward, the opposite direction of Ninevah. When Jonah’s ship encounters storms, Jonah tells the sailors to hurl him into the sea, which they reluctantly do. Jonah is swallowed up by a great fish where he stays for three days and nights until he ends up where he started.

Jonah was called a second time to go to Ninevah and preach repentance. This time he agrees to go. The Ninevahites did repent, fasting and putting on sackcloth. A logical reaction for Jonah would be to be very proud of himself for saving 120,000 lives and thankful for God’s mercy. Instead he become very angry with God for having compassion on a longstanding enemy of Israel. Jonah goes to the desert to sulk but God provides him with a gourd plant for shade. When a worm eats the plant, Jonah again becomes angry with God for his minor discomfort, but still lacks compassion for the inhabitants of Ninevah.

The story of Jonah is obviously about God’s unlimited love and compassion, even to those who have done very bad things, such as destroying the city that housed the Holy Temple. It is also about the prophetic call that each of us have to follow the divine plans that we were created for. Jonah tried to flee from his calling. I often want to flee from the callings I have in life, whether it be my commitments at work, to my family, to my Church, to my prison ministry, etc. Moreover, at times when I am brutally honest, like Jonah I only want God’s grace and mercy to extend to me and my immediate clan. I do not want God to show love and tenderness to those who have wronged me. It violates myinfantile sense of justice.  I really enjoy the story of Jonah because in so many ways I am like him. I cling to my ego and sense of being right rather than showing infinite compassion like God does.

Ultimately, the story of Jonah helps keep me grounded. Whenever I get angry about some perceived sense of injustice, I reflect on Jonah sulking beneath the gourd plant which helps put the infinite nature of God’s love in perspective.

New American Bible Revised Edition Commentary
Living Space Commentary (Monday)
Living Space Commentary (Tuesday)
Living Space Commentary (Wednesday)
Vatikos Website on the Theology of the Book of Jonah

About William Ockham

I am a father of two with eclectic interests in theology, philosophy and sports. I chose the pseudonym William Ockham in honor of his contributions to philosophy, specifically Occam's Razor, and its contributions to modern scientific theory. My blog ( explores Ignatian Spirituality and the intersection of faith, science and reason through the life and writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (pictured above).
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Human Pettiness of Jonah and the Mercy of God

  1. claire46 says:

    It is one of my favorite books in the Bible as well 🙂

  2. mkenny114 says:

    Very nice post, and one with which I can identify with all too well 🙂 I also find the Book of Jonah to be a never-ending source of wisdom and a corrective to my own tendency to sulk when things don’t go according to my ideas of justice, etc.

    It is a great example of how Scripture acts as a steady and implacable well of sober truth, in which our intransigence and pride can be shown up, but also washed away and healed.

  3. Lynda says:

    Yes, the story of Jonah speaks to me as well. I know that I will experience God’s redemptive grace in my heart when I am obedient and pray for those by whom I feel wronged. I felt incredible peace when I began praying sincerely for my former spouse and his new wife. I knew then that I had opened myself to God’s healing. Thanks for sharing this.

  4. Sulking is a defect that I seem to cherish still… its of fear like its full-blown relative, self-pity; its more subtle and devious and clever. If I were to replace it with an asset such as compassion, this makes for some progress.

    There always are perceptions to sort out.

    ~ Eric

  5. Thank you Claire, Michael, Lynda and Eric. You all make outstanding points. This year I have been teaching 6th grade catechism and the focus has been on the Hebrew Bible and the history of Israel. It has been a fascinating experience for as part of the preparation I have read many of the adult-level biblical commentaries and I have discovered depths of the scripture that I had not previously known. The themes of journey, exile, turning away from God, God continuing to reach out speak directly to my own personal journey and relationship with God. Moreover, the emotional depths of the Psalms and the Wisdom literature help me to understand my connection to God and the rest of humanity and God’s other creation.

    Hope everyone has a wonderful weekend.

    W. Ockham

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s