A man sat in his house minding his own business when God’s voice was heard over the silence of the quiet town in which the man lived. “Go to the neighboring town—the one you’ve avoided for so long—and tell them they need to stop worshiping themselves and worship Me instead. Go now.”
But the man did not go. Not only did he not go, he went in the opposite direction to send a very clear message to God: I don’t like those people and I don’t want to do anything remotely good for them. They don’t deserve it.
As can be imagined, God wasn’t about to be made servant to this man, so He acted in such a way to get this man’s full attention. And get his attention He did. “Go to the neighboring town—the one you’ve avoided for so long, and the one full of people you don’t like—and tell them they need to stop worshiping themselves and worship Me instead. Go now.” So, the man went. Miraculously, everyone in the town dropped everything and worshiped God from then on. But the man was angry; angry that they turned their lives around and were now eternal beneficiaries of God’s mercy.
A second man sat in a house also minding His own business. His business, however, was, in fact, to be in the house. No voice was heard saying, “Go now to the neighboring town,” for this man was exactly where He needed to be. This man reclined at the table amongst the ones others had avoided for so long. He did not go in the opposite direction, but rather toward them, sitting and eating with them, which sent a very clear message to those gathered around Him: that He loved them and wanted to do anything for their good, even if they didn’t deserve it. The man was hopeful; hopeful that they would turn their lives around and would become eternal beneficiaries of God’s mercy.
Jonah and Jesus. Different men with two different missions and different visions.
Jonah’s anger at the repentance of a city revealed a heart struggling to love well, a heart not understanding that love always hopes. He could only see the behavior of the Ninevites, not what they could become. Jesus, on the other hand, was a visionary. Lovers of people are visionaries. Their vision doesn’t ignore the present but is rather viewed through the lenses of the future and potentiality. That is how Jesus was able to sit with “tax collectors and sinners.” Of course, He knew their behavior, even their heart. But He looked ahead.
Without a doubt, Jonah and Jesus contrast sharply. The two outcomes differ just as much. Jonah did eventually do what God said, seemingly while withholding love, and Nineveh was saved. Jesus, love incarnate, sat with tax collectors and sinners, but no record is found of them following Jesus from that point on. How could this be? What are we to make of this?
Perhaps these two men and these two stories remind us of two truths about an always-hoping love:
- It looks beyond who they might be today, and
- It is not determined by the outcome.
God knows who they are today and who they could be tomorrow. Let us not worry about the outcome. Let us simply love without hesitation and full of hope.