September 24 – Trinity 16
Jonah 3:10 – 4 end, Matthew 20: 1-16
Its not fair! But you said…. You made me look stupid. I told you so! We may not say these things anymore, though I am sure when we were younger we did, and I am sure you will still hear them in playgrounds up and down the country. I wonder if we still catch ourselves thinking them, even if we don’t say them!
The story of Jonah is interesting, as there is no point in it where he is happy. First he dislikes what seems to be, as far as we are told, the only task God has for him, and understandably so as the huge city of Nineveh will not like his message. He dislikes the idea so much that he runs as far as possible in opposite direction – Tarshish is on the south coast of Spain – west of Gibraltar near Cadiz and was believed by the Hebrews to be the far limit of western world. Nineveh, on the other hand is in northern Iraq, near the Turkish border – today the site is surrounded by the city of Mosul.
In running away to sea, Jonah almost causes the death of entire crew of the ship and definitely the loss of its cargo. However, he eventually gets to Nineveh which is a huge city and as God asked – preaches repentance all day as he walks through the city.
It seems that he may have exceeded his instructions here, as God has told him to ‘cry out against it’- Jonah goes further and preaches God’s destruction for the sinful ways of the people. Unexpectedly, the people, from King down listen to him, hear his message and repent of their wickedness, and God forgives them – as he did Jonah.
Jonah then goes and sulks – you feel he might have been rather enjoying the thought of watching God destroy the city. He finds himself a hilltop with a good view and builds a small shelter so that he can watch and see what happens. This is the point where he almost reverts to the playground language that we were thinking about earlier. Jonah complains to God – I knew you would do that. In our reading, in chapter 4 v2 he says: Is this not what I said while I was still in my own country? …I knew you were a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.’.
He almost blames God for his own running away. God’s response is interesting – he is basically saying to Jonah ‘is this your problem?’. It reminds me somewhat of something that used to occur in Blackadder – I don’t know if you watched it, but occasionally Miranda Richardson, who played Elizabeth I would turn to a person who wasn’t agreeing with her and say ‘Who’s Queen?’. Just occasionally we need to be reminded who is God, and who is really in charge, as Jonah did at this time.
Jonah did know what God was like -while in the fish he had prayed ‘Deliverance belongs to the Lord’ (Jonah 2: 9). It is worth reading the whole prayer – you can look it up in Jonah chapter 2.
So he sits in his shelter and sulks, and complains to God and God provides a bush to give some shade from the hot sun for him. Although Jonah is cross with God and almost ‘not speaking’, he is pleased with the bush – until the next day when it is attacked by an insect and dies, and he loses the extra shade.
In our gospel reading we find a similar situation. Each set of workers has agreed the rate for the work and at the end of the day they receive it. It is worth remembering that nobody has been cheated here. However, when those who have only worked for an hour get a full day’s wages, those who worked long and hard get excited. The word goes around that the boss is paying extra. In consequence, when they only get what they had agreed to, which seemed a good deal at the time, they too start to complain.
There is a well-known saying that comes to us from the 15th century that comparisons are odious, and these stories demonstrate the truth of that well. Both God and landowner have shown the same characteristics. Both have set a task and expected it to be obeyed, and neither goes back on their promise, both show generosity. But still they get complaints.
Our prayers are often requests – we ask God to make people better, make our lives somehow easier, help us to deal with world situations or people we find difficult. Often when writing intercessions for use in church I feel I am giving God my shopping list. We add the proviso ‘ in the name of Jesus’ or sometimes – ‘if it be your will’, but I wonder, do we expect our prayers to be granted? Jonah wanted to be proved right. What do we really want?
I was lucky enough to spend a weekend recently learning about Julian of Norwich. She spent much of her life in prayer, and wrote some interesting things about it.
‘Pray inwardly, even if you do not enjoy it. It does good, though you feel nothing. Yes, even though you think you are doing nothing.’
‘Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance. It is laying hold of His willingness.’
She gives us there, two important things to remember about prayer – first and most importantly – do it! But also, find out what God wants for our world, our church, our village, whatever and then use your prayers to work with him in making it happen. I have copied a few more sayings of hers on the subject on to a separate sheet which you can find with this reflection.
The lesson I think we can take from our readings today – remember, we have a loving and generous God who loves to hear us come to him in prayer. One of my favourite prayers is the collect for Trinity 12 in the older version and I would like to end these thoughts now with that:
Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray
and to give more than either we desire or deserve: pour down upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.
Copyright acknowledgement: Lewis, Jone Johnson. “Julian of Norwich Quotes: From the English Mystic.” ThoughtCo, Sep. 3, 2021, thoughtco.com/julian-of-norwich-quotes-3530114. Some material included is copyright: © The Archbishops’ Council 2000- 2023, The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995