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September 2020

Loving Justice

Year A – RCL – Proper 20

Scripture: Jonah 3:10-4:11

Marc Chagall’s “Jonah”

The Bible story of Jonah is a very curious one. God tells Jonah to go and talk to the people of a city where many are behaving very badly. Jonah doesn’t want to go. He’s afraid that they might hurt him if he goes there and tries to tell them to change their wicked ways. Jonah runs in the opposite direction, ends up being thrown into the ocean, swallowed by a giant whale and then he gets barfed out of the sea animal’s mouth onto the shore of Ninevah. That’s the city where God told him to go in the first place.

Jonah ends up in the exact place where he did not want to go. Now he knows for sure that he has to go tell the people of Ninevah that they need to clean up their act or else! “God is going to destroy you,” says Jonah, “unless you change your bad behavior.” After delivering his message to the bad people of Ninevah, Jonah stomps out of the city and sits down to wait for God’s anger to come down and smack those people. He wants to see the punishment that they deserve. After all, he’s been through a lot on account of those bad Ninevites. 

But Jonah does not get to see God’s anger strike down the bad people of Ninevah. Turns out, those people actually listened to what Jonah said to them. Turns out that they actually turned away from their sins and made a big change. They stopped doing bad things and turned towards God. It’s a happy day in heaven, because people who had turned away from God, now turned back to God and started to love God once more.

God loves all people. God wants everyone to turn towards love and learn to love God and to treat others well. But Jonah was not really in synch with God anymore. Jonah wasn’t thinking about how sad these people would be, or how miserable their lives had been when they were pushing God away. Jonah was thinking about himself. Jonah was angry with the whole business of being dragged over to Nineveh by God. He didn’t care if they had changed their ways. He wanted to see those people punished for what they had been doing. He wanted them punished for the bother of having been forced to preach to them. God loved the people of Ninevah, but Jonah did not love them.

Why didn’t God just punish them!? Jonah had a hard time understanding the loving justice of God. If there is any way that God can save someone, or can turn them back onto the path of love, then that is what God will do. The justice of love does not want to punish. The justice of love wants to save. God finally did manage to show Jonah that Love is the greatest part of justice. Yes, there is a consequence or a punishment for bad behavior, but love always comes first. Our Creator is a God of loving justice.

Prayer: Dear Loving Creator, Thank you for loving us and always being ready to welcome us back into your arms. Please forgive us when we turn away from you and do mean things to others. Help us to always treat others with love first, the way that you treat us. Amen.

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