It's Never Enough

Sep 24 2017


As an introduction to the story of Jonah and the lessons we can learn from it, I’m going to start this morning with a story you may remember from your Sunday School days. It’s the story of the children of Israel complaining in the wilderness. For years and years, they complained about the treatment they were receiving at the hands of the Egyptians. Finally, God heard their prayers and sent Moses to lead them out of Egypt. We find them, at one point, in the wilderness wandering, and complaining because God rescued them from the Egyptians and from a condition during which they supposedly had enough to eat simply to starve in the wilderness.

God hears their complaining and tells Moses that he will send quail at night and manna in the morning so that they will not starve. God also gives them instructions regarding how much of it to gather so that it would not spoil or go to waste.

Most of us know part of the story of Jonah who, when God tells him he must go to Nineveh to challenge the people regarding their poor behavior, flees from God by jumping on a ship to Tarshish. Doesn’t work. God finds him anyway and sends a terrible storm that threatens to kill all on board the vessel. When the sailors realize that it will probably be Jonah or them, they throw Jonah overboard, whereupon, the storm immediately stops.

Jonah is swallowed by a big fish, spends three days in its belly and then spews Jonah out onto dry land. Jonah goes to Nineveh and threatens the people, but unlike his original expectations that they would NOT listen, they do. As a result, God spares the people of Nineveh. Now --- Jonah doesn’t like this. In fact, he gets pretty angry with God and tells God that he knew from the beginning that God would be merciful and that is why he fled to Tarshish. (Likely story!)

Jonah now leaves Nineveh and sets himself outside the city to wait and see what will happen. God makes a bush grow to give him shade. But overnight, God sends a worm to destroy the bush and the next day Jonah is suffering in the hot sun and wants to die. Now Jonah is angry because the bush is gone, and God says to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” Jonah replies, “Yes, angry enough to die.” God replies with these words, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

Both of these stories deal with situations over which the people had no control. The Israelites could not produce food in the wilderness. Yet instead of having the faith that God would provide for them as God had rescued them from the Egyptians, they chose to complain. In other words, they quickly forgot their gratitude for their rescue and instead, turned on their rescuer and blamed God for their plight.

Jonah had no control over being asked by God to go to Nineveh; nor did he have any control over the choice that God made to save Nineveh or the choice to send a bush and then destroy it.

Aren’t there times in the lives of all of us that we are extremely grateful for the blessings that we have? Maybe we don’t always pause to say ‘thank you,’ but we are grateful. Or perhaps we think that we have created all the good in our lives and God sends the bad to test us. That does not bode well for our image of God, nor is it an accurate representation of God. If the God that we worship is blamed for all the bad, and never thanked for the good, perhaps we need to change our image of God or pick another God. That is not the kind of God that I would like to worship, nor is it an accurate image of a God of love.

Actually, we have said many times that the reverse is true. God love us and wants the best for us. It is we who choose pathways that lead to bad happenings in our lives. So the blame belongs not to God, but to us.

 Jonah is another story. Jonah started out afraid. He ended up stretching the truth of his reason for fleeing, then got angry with God for saving Nineveh because that’s not what Jonah originally thought God would do. Talk about human nature! When confronted with the truth that shows us in an uncomplimentary way, run or lie. God, in an attempt to show Jonah that the way of love is the way of mercy, creates the lesson with the tree. I’m not sure that Jonah gets it in the end, but maybe he understands a little more about the nature of God’s mercy.

Our story about the workers is one that I’m sure resounds with many people here. I can just hear it. “What do you mean – you’re paying them as much as you’re paying me? I struggled in the hot sun all day; they only worked an hour. That’s not fair!”

Well – from whose perspective is it not fair? The employer or the employee. All agreed to work for a fair day’s wage, not an hourly wage. All were paid a fair day’s wage. Then the landowner asked a fairly pointed question: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”

Therein lies the point of every one of these stories. If we think, first of all, that God doles blessings out like wages, that speaks to a very narrow approach to a relationship with God. It says that God makes all the decisions and we make none. The Puppet Master. The minute that we accept the principle of free will, we must also accept the responsibility for our actions and our choices, and we can no longer blame God for what happens – good or bad!

Second, if we retain an attitude of envy regarding the talents or riches of another, then we render ourselves incapable of truly seeing our own riches. We walk only in our own shoes. As long as those shoes are on our feet, we are responsible for where they take us or we take them. There are many unfair situations in the world, but they are not created by God; they are created by human beings. Only when human beings understand that riches are meant to be shared with others who are less fortunate, will we ever begin to approach the type of love with which God loves us and the care and concern that we ought to show for others

Let's be thankful for what we have and who we are. If we can improve our state in life, then let's do that. If not, then perhaps not worrying so much about what others have and we don't might help us lead happier lives. Amen.