Sermon 9 20 20
The author Garry Wills once referred to St. Jerome as the Grump of Bethlehem. Well, if Jerome was the Grump of Bethlehem, Jonah was the Crank of Nineveh. They were both so sure of their rightness and their opinions… they argued with God! They sneered at God! They were the Archie Bunker’s of the ancient world.
And yet I love the story of Jonah! It’s not about a whale… It’s about a very successful prophet who saved an entire city, even though he thought they didn’t deserve it. Jonah made a difference in spite of himself! He did what God wanted him to do and got the Ninivans to repent. But that wasn’t good enough for him. Oh-noooo! He didn’t want the Ninivans to be delivered from the hell-fire and damnation of God! He wanted God’s righteous anger to rain down on them. How dare they repent! How dare they do what God asked! How dare God grant them forgiveness!
What a grump!
Jonah is the perfect example of someone who would cheerfully cut off his own nose to spite his face. He actually begged God to take his life if God wasn’t going to punish the people of Nineveh.
And wouldn’t you know it? Jonah just knew that God would be merciful to the people of Nineveh. Gahhhh! How dare God be merciful! They deserved to be punished! And so — here’s Jonah’s logic — He showed them! And he showed God! Jonah punished himself! By sitting outside in the beating sun! “If those people are going to be allowed to live, well – well – I’d rather be dead!” Yep! All the logic of a three year old’s tantrum.
When we’re kids in Sunday School, we hear about Jonah being swallowed by a whale, but what is God really teaching there? Not just “Don’t run away from God. We can’t avoid God.” No, God is teaching that God has many ways to teach us all lessons. And some of those ways we might not agree with. But God is God, and we’re not. We may not agree with God’s generosity with others, but I bet we’re pretty willing to accept that generosity for ourselves.
We can count on God. No matter how bull-headed we are, God will always decide in favor of love. Whether we approve or not. It’s shocking, I know, but God does not require our approval.
The Apostle Paul also had a healthy capacity for crankiness. I think I’ve mentioned before that it is interesting to note that on his major journeys across the Roman world, nobody ever went with Paul twice. I get the distinct impression that Paul wasn’t the easiest person to live with. He was clearly brilliant, with an almost fevered brain that couldn’t stopworking. An interesting guy to be sure. But as a companion, I get the impression he could be exhausting. Probably never stopped talking. Probably had opinions on everything – and shared them with everyone! Oh, I have a feeling it took a lot of energy just to be with Paul!
In the first part of our reading from Phillippians, he gives the impression that the only reason he puts up with living among human beings is because they need him so much. Otherwise, he’d be only too happy to depart and join up with Jesus in heaven. He’s only sticking around for their sakes. (Well, that’s a bit much, don’t you think? Paul is able to think pretty highly of himself.) I’ll bet there were one or two members of the church at Phillippi who were willing to let him move on – however grateful they were for him.
But let’s not get wrapped up in Paul’s pride. Let’s think about what is really hard for us to understand. And that is the upside down economics of Jesus Christ. What is he teaching us here in our gospel? Can we understand it? He is so counter cultural and counter to everything we think of as logical. We work, we get paid. We work more, we get paid more. We work less, and we don’t get paid as much. That makes sense, doesn’t it? We have systems for determining these things fairly. We have pay scales.
God apparently doesn’t work with a pay scale. Apparently everyone gets paid the same – no matter their training – no matter how hard they work – no matter how much work they do. Wait a minute! That’s not right! God’s economy works in a whole different way! The person who was saved early on and the person who is saved just before the last trumpet sounds get the same salvation. Now wait a minute! That’s not fair!
What is fair is what is up to Jesus Christ. Salvation is God’s gift to give. Do any of us actually deserve it? Jesus gets to hand out salvation however he sees fit. Jesus gives and we choose or don’t choose to accept. It’s not up to us to judge who is worthy and who is not. Think of it this way. That’s not our problem! What a relief! One less thing to worry about. And that was the source of Jonah’s angst, wasn’t it? He was so busy judging – doing God’s job for him, that he didn’t take the time to appreciate his own salvation.
I’ll never forget… I was called up for jury duty when we lived in California. And as they called out our names at the courthouse, one man stood up and explained to the judge that his faith forbade him to judge others. The judge sent him off. He got out of it! I think he was honestly telling the truth. And good for him! (Actually, I consider jury duty a civic responsibility, so I was happy to sit on the jury. It wasn’t an exciting case, but it was interesting.)
Jesus makes his and God’s roles clear. And our role clear as well. “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (Hmmmmm?)
The bottom line is that it is not for us to judge what God is doing and why. God’s logic is God’s logic. God’s value system is God’s value system and yes, God’s value system is apparently different from ours. Maybe we should pay attention to that.
Those who are esteemed and respected in this world (like the rich young ruler) may be frowned upon by God. The opposite is also true: those who are despised and rejected in this world may be more valued by God. Don’t get caught up in the world’s way of ranking things; pay attention to what God values. That has lasting value.
However God decides to work in the world, we need to trust that God works in the world with love. We can’t see the whole grand picture. That’s not our responsibility. It is our responsibility to love God and to love each other as much as we love ourselves. That should be enough. That’ll keep us busy.