Compassion x3

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Compassion x3

There are stories in the Bible that are so familiar that we may miss the depth of God’s message.  A case in point is Jonah.  You might be familiar with the story, in fact it’s one of the favorite stories taught to children in Sunday school.

Jonah was running from God, swallowed by a whale and regurgitated on a beach after 3 days and finally obeyed God and went to Nineveh to preach repentance. Most people’s emphasis on the story of Jonah has always been the big fish and Jonah’s rescue.

But if you look deeper into the text you will see that the main theme of Jonah is God’s love and compassion.  Jonah received God’s compassion throughout the book, first when Jonah was hurled into the raging sea (Chapter One) second, Jonah survived for 3 days in the belly of the whale (Chapter Two) and third, when God provided shade for Jonah after he delivered the message of repentance to Nineveh (Chapter Four).  God provided Jonah protection in his times of trials. Why was Jonah facing those trials in the first place?  Because Jonah was rebelling against God, refusing to do the very thing that God had asked him to do.

Jonah was the recipient of God’s compassion and yet Jonah was unwilling to extend God’s compassion to others.  God chose Jonah to preach repentance to the people of Nineveh, the powerful capital city of the Assyrian Empire who were enemies of the Jews and would eventually take the Northern Kingdom into captivity.  God wanted Jonah to extend an opportunity to these people to repent before His judgment was rendered to them.  The people of Nineveh repented and “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, He had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction He had threatened.”(NIV) 3:10

What was Jonah’s reaction to God compassion to the people of Assyria?  He threw a first class temper tantrum, the Bible tells us he was greatly displeased and angry that God “was a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from send calamity.” 4:3

After Jonah realized the people had repented and God’s judgment had been averted, he went outside the city to see what would happen.  He must have still been hoping for God’s judgment to be rendered against Nineveh.  God graciously supplied Jonah with a vine to give him shade and comfort from the sun.  But the next day God sent a worm to destroy the plant and a hot wind to give discomfort to Jonah.  Rather than realize the lesson on love and compassion God was trying to give him, Jonah declared that he was angry enough to die and that it would be better if he were dead. (4:8, 10)

God reminded Jonah that he was more concerned about the welfare of a plant than the welfare of an entire city of “more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left.” (4:11) The final sentence of Jonah clearly displays God’s compassion for all people “Should I not be concerned about that great city?” (4:11)

God’s compassion extends to all and He rejoices when the lost are found. The gospel of Luke, Chapter 15 verses 3-13 records three parables in succession that deal with the concept of God’s compassion and concern for the lost:  The Parable of the Lost Sheep concerning a shepherd who leaves his flock of 99 to find one lost sheep and rejoices when it is found; the parable of the Lost Coin, about a woman searches for one lost coin and rejoices when it is found; and the parable of the Prodigal Son and the father who rejoices and celebrates when his lost son returns. An often-overlooked fact in this famous parable is that the older brother does not so rejoice when his brother returns; he, like Jonah, is unwilling to extend God’s compassion to the lost.

Here’s the challenge for each of us:  Do we extend God’s grace and forgiveness to others, or do we withhold it? Do we pray for the lost in this world, the people who have wronged us, those we don’t like very much, for our enemies?  Or have we given them up for lost and abandoned them? Jesus tells us to “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you….if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?…but love your enemies, do good to them….be merciful, just as you Father is merciful.” Luke 6: 27, 28, 32, 35, 36.



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Lynn Pharris
Lynn Pharris
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