Jonah and Mercy

But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry over the gourd plant?” Jonah answered, “I have a right to be angry—angry enough to die.” Then the LORD said, “You are concerned over the gourd plant which cost you no effort and which you did not grow; it came up in one night and in one night it perished. And should I not be concerned over the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot know their right hand from their left, not to mention all the animals?”

Jonah 4:9-11

“What wealth it is to be in good health, as we are! But we have the duty of putting our health at the service of those who do not have it. To act otherwise would be to betray that gift of God.”

-Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

I heard a homily today that highlighted an aspect of the story of Jonah that I had not considered before. Jonah actually reacts in anger that the Ninevites repent–these last few verses show God chastising Jonah for being petty enough to be upset that they turned away from their sins. Jonah is begrudging in his mercy, rather than being what Pope Francis called a “missionary of mercy.”

We might not think we have much in common with Jonah in this story, but let me offer an extremely recent example. During Pope Francis’s visit, obviously everyone had commentary to add. It was certainly an overwhelming time to be on the internet. And many, many lapsed Catholics offered their opinions or hopes about the Pope (as Alyssa mentioned last week). Some of them were really out there. My go-to reaction–and that of others, I think–was to roll my eyes and get annoyed by the seemingly sudden interest in the new pope and to regard it as skin-deep and passing.

So for me the God/Jonah scenario above turned into:

“Do you have a right to be angry over the gourd plant reaction of other people to the Pope?”

“I have a right to be angry–angry enough to die lump these people into a category rather than treating them as individuals seeking Truth.”

If we are honest we often find ourselves being the “older brother” (sorry to mix Bible passages) in the prodigal son parable–rather than rejoicing over the fact that others are perhaps regaining even the faintest spark of faith, we hold them to their pasts and demand strict justice. We forget that we all started with nothing, and that even if we were lucky enough to be raised in the faith, faith is always a gift from God, not some conclusion we brilliantly reached on our own. Brothers and sisters, I struggle with this! I write from that place of struggle. I see the beauty of the Church’s Magisterium, I see how it is disregarded… and yet I know that God calls us to be out there on the streets of Nineveh, preaching repentance to anyone who will listen, even those who disagree with us! To rejoice with the shepherd who finds the one wandering sheep. I think we should never doubt that conversion is possible because, in some sense, each of us is a convert in that we have turned away from the world and “put on the new man” of Christ (Ephesians 4:24). So if the Pope’s visit sparked some awkward conversations in your workplace or with your family members, use it as an opportunity to tell people more about Jesus, and do not be afraid or dismissive. The person asking may honestly be in search of something they can’t yet express. Treat your catechesis as a “gift from God” like Frassati mentions above and not as an excuse to look down on the person.

Thank you, Jesus, for the gift of faith! Please help us to bring others to love You and Your Church more fully!

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, pray for us!