Greetings brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Henri Nouwen (January 24, 1932—September 21, 1996), my latest hero, was a Dutch Catholic priest, professor, writer and theologian. Henri was knowledgeable in many things, but lately I’ve focused on his thinking concerning social justice and community. Henri states, “We spend an enormous amount of energy making up our minds about other people. Not a day goes by without somebody doing or saying something that evokes in us the need to form an opinion about him or her. We hear a lot, see a lot, and know a lot. The feeling that we have to sort it all out in our minds and make judgments about it can be quite oppressive.”
Desert Fathers (along with Desert Mothers) were early Christian hermits, ascetics, and monks who lived mainly in the Scetes desert of Egypt in the 3rd century. Henri quotes the Desert Fathers and says, “Judging others is a heavy burden, while being judged by others is a light one. Once we can let go of our need to judge others, we will experience an immense inner freedom. Once we are free from judging, we will be also free for mercy. Let’s remember Jesus’ words: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged” (Matthew 7:1).
Question is this. We think we’re free and we are free in some contexts of our existence, but it’s the inside we need God to clean up—as we recognize our need to do what we can to change. In the O.T., Jonah experienced the same challenge as we do.
Jonah dreads the fact of seeing the wicked Assyrians from Ninevah repent and receive God’s mercy—he’d rather die! He was so fiercely afraid of them he ran the opposite direction right into the mouth of a whale! Jonah rejected the thought that even the Ninevites could receive the mercy and forgiveness of God.
The Assyrians tortuous crimes against humanity were well known. They’d impale, behead, and cut their enemies skin into strips and pull it off a living victim.
Jonah knew well what the Assyrians had done to his people. 400 years of Hebrew captivity and bondage under the Assyrians was enough to send him running in fear. Jonah understood something about being called—because he was a believer in God. He knew obedience to God involved suffering and that wasn’t on his agenda or so he thought. But Jonah agrees to go to Ninevah and preach a message of repentance to them. He knew there was no other choice except to be chewed up by a whale.
When we look to God, open our hearts and minds and let go of our pride, we see that we’re much like Jonah. We can have bias and prejudice of other religions and other races with different cultures than ours. We label that fear of difference within ourselves and call it “the correct political view.” But fact is, we don’t want to suffer any more than Jonah did.
Jonah wasn’t responding as God responds to us or anyone else, but this race had hurt his people, and he felt they could be a danger to his wellbeing. He was angry with a race of people who had been cruel and oppressive to the Hebrews. Jonah wanted this race of abusers kept away from him.
Jonah was absolutely empty of God’s compassion for the Assyrians, and his prayer in verses 2 and 3 is selfish. Listen again to what Jonah says to God. “I knew you were sheer grace and mercy, not easily angered, rich in love, and ready at the drop of a hat to turn your plans of punishment into a program of forgiveness!” “So, God, if you won’t kill them, kill me! I’m better off dead!”
Jonah talks like God only has mercy for him! But we’re all in need of mercy and forgiveness. And God has no more mercy for Jonah than he does for the Assyrians! Jonah doesn’t have an accurate view of himself. He doesn’t see himself for who he really is—just like us. When God called Jonah to go to Ninevah and he refused, God didn’t reject him! Instead, God shows Jonah compassion and keeps him alive in the belly of the whale. When Jonah cries out to God for deliverance, the whale spits him out.
When we’re disciplined by God we tend to be more inclined to do what God requires of us. We lose some of our ego and self-absorption, and we align ourselves more so with God’s love.
All of us are in the process of becoming who God desires us to be. I know I’m not what I should be, but I’m thankful I’m not what I used to be! Let’s not run in the opposite direction that God is leading us in. Let’s consider Jesus and learn to see God’s way. Obedience to God is living out how God loves.
I’ve found the words of Henri Nouwen to be more than poignant for my life when he says, “Can we only speak when we are fully living what we are saying? If all our words had to cover all our actions, we would be doomed to permanent silence! Sometimes we are called to proclaim God’s love even when we are not yet fully able to live it.”
“Does that mean we are hypocrites? Only when our own words no longer call us to conversion. Nobody completely lives up to his or her own ideals and visions. But by proclaiming our ideals and visions with great conviction and great humility, we may gradually grow into the truth we speak. As long as we know that our lives always will speak louder than our words, we can trust that our words will remain humble.” O God, let it be so. Let it be so in me dear Lord. Let it be so in us!
Grace and peace, Pastor DD