Monday, August 07, 2017

The Vine

The sun beat down on him while he sat there, sweltering in his rage. The whole thing had been a fiasco from beginning to end, just as he knew it would be. That was why he hadn’t wanted to go in the first place. He knew that was how it would end up, and it just wasn’t fair. If Israel were God’s chosen people, why should God give second chances to their enemies? He had done everything he could to avoid this happening – running off towards Tarshish (that didn’t end well – for the rest of his days he would shudder in horror whenever he remembered that time in the fish’s belly!) and then giving the prophetic message as bluntly and negatively as he could. He need not have bothered trying to resist. The Ninevites had repented, and God was going to spare them. It simply wasn’t fair.

But then, feeling almost idiotic, he realised that if he just moved a little bit, he could at least be out of the fierce heat, which was already unbearable so early in the morning.  A vine had grown, and was providing lovely shade as the sun rose higher in the sky. He was sure it wasn’t there yesterday. Ah well, if it had grown overnight, miraculously, then God still had a care for him. Maybe if he waited a few days longer, God would destroy Nineveh after all? He stretched out in the shade and waited …

The next morning, the sun was hotter than ever, but where was his shade? He looked around and saw that the vine which had been so generous yesterday, had withered up and shrivelled overnight. He looked closer. Some insect, some hideous creeping thing, had gnawed at it overnight and destroyed it, and even now was happily munching at its base. He was angry: angry for himself that he was once more exposed to the pitiless, scorching sun, but there was something else as well. He realised that he was actually angry for the sake of the vine itself, which had been his benefactor, and, for its pains, had been remorselessly devoured.

It was then that God spoke, and the message was so clear that Jonah found himself weeping.  There he was, feeling a terrible pity for a mere plant, eaten up because that is the fate of plants. Meanwhile, if he, a mere human, felt such compassion for a mere vine, how did the God of all compassion feel about that great city spread out below.  Sure, there were sinful men and women there, given over to cruelty, idolatry and every form of depravity. But even if such a merciful God ignored their repentance, and God was always merciful to the penitent, they weren’t the only ones to be considered. What about the little children, too young to know their right hand from their left, let alone commit any evil? Even the domestic beasts of the Ninevites were worth more pity than a mere vine!

And Jonah bowed his head, there was nothing left to say.

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