Rev. George Miller
November 15, 2020
A few weeks ago we studied Exodus 32. Moses is on the mountain for a long time. The people get antsy and ask Aaron to create an idol.
God gets upset. God plans to wipe them out. Moses reminds God about the promise made to Sarah’s family. God changes God’s mind.
By chapter 34 God proclaims “The Lord is merciful and gracious.”
This story is usually referred to as “The Golden Calf”. But perhaps it should no longer be called that, as doing so places the emphasis on us and what we do.
Perhaps Exodus 32-34 can be called “God’s Grace and Mercy” as it refocuses the attention on our Creator.
There is a power in referring to Exodus 32 as a story about God’s grace and mercy, because there is power in the words themselves.
For example, in Hebrew, the word for merciful is “rehem” which translates as “womb.” Merciful literally translates to “motherly love,” the kind of passion and compassion that is experienced when carrying life within you.
God is merciful; God responds with womb love…
This story from Exodus about God’s motherly love clearly left a long-lasting impression upon the Israelites, and an impression upon Jonah. After all, it’s because of God’s womb love that Jonah ran in the 1st place.
So often when we hear of Jonah, we immediately think of the big fish. But how did he get in that belly?
God calls the prophet Jonah to go to Nineveh to cry out against their wickedness, but Jonah doesn’t want to.
Nineveh is the enemy; they’re violent, bloodthirsty, and cruel.
So, Jonah says “Heck no!” and runs in the opposite direction.
Is it because Jonah is afraid for his safety? Is it because Jonah is unsure he’s got the skills for the job?
No. It’s because Jonah knows all to well who God is.
Jonah knows that the Lord is a God of grace and mercy. Jonah knows that God is capable of changing God’s mind. Jonah knows that God will most likely show womb-love to his enemies, and Jonah doesn’t want this.
Jonah wants retribution. He wants annihilation. He wants God to tear the Ninevites limb to limb and burn the place down to the ground.
Jonah does not want them to be given a second chance, which he knows God will do.
That’s why Jonah ran. That’s how he ended up in the belly of the fish. Because he wanted wanton destruction, not womb love for his enemies.
Funny how being cast overboard and in the belly of bleakness can change a man’s mind.
So eventually Jonah does make his way to Nineveh, he does share a word from God…
…and as a result, the city, the citizens, the king, even all the animals are saved.
But Jonah is upset. So upset he wants to die. Jonah did not want Nineveh saved. He wanted them utterly destroyed.
He wanted karma. He wanted some good ol’ what-comes-around-goes-around.
Instead, he saw the city turned around, transformed, and able to see a new day.
Jonah wanted God to get the belt and whoop some butt, but instead God pulled Nineveh to God’s bosom and showed them motherly love.
What does Jonah do? He throws a temper tantrum. It’s kind of cute. In some manner, we can joke and say Jonah responded like a typical man.
He doesn’t get his way. His ego is bruised. He feels his reputation has been ruined.
So he pouts. He goes into “woe is me.”
Ladies- have you ever seen a man do this when they don’t get their way? Perhaps a son, a brother, a spouse?
It’s somewhat endearing; how delicate the male ego can be, the fragility we hide behind loud voices and big muscles.
But to be fair, being a man is not always easy.
To be told that we are expected to always be strong, to win at any cost, to defend/protect, to be willing to die for your country, that there are only good guys and bad guys.
And no one really teaches us men how to lead, how to be weak, that it’s ok to show emotion, its ok to be fragile.
We’re often taught that as a man, our identity is tied to how much we win, how much we dominate.
No one really teaches us how to respond when we don’t win, or how nurturing can achieve as much as destroying.
So when we do lose, or things don’t go our way, or unearned grace steps in, we often don’t know how to best respond.
No one teaches us that life is not as simple as good guys and bad guys. That both sides think they are the hero, and that often times we are just people in which good and bad exist simultaneously.
So when things don’t go our way, we don’t always know how to respond in a healthy manner.
When we fail at our perceived task we think we’re worthless and worry about our reputation.
When we are sick or diagnosed with a chronic illness we think we must hide it, deny it, or pull away from those who care the most about us.
That’s why focusing today on men’s health is so essential, because rarely do we discuss the health problems or aging process of men.
We don’t really discuss the horrors our soldiers endured, especially those who served in WW 2.
We don’t discuss the male sadness that comes with slowing down. What is really means when we can no longer drive, when we can no longer look after our spouses and family.
We don’t often say the words testicles or prostrate, or discuss how they change as we age and the fear of discovering we might have cancer.
We don’t discuss the reality of when we come to depend on the little blue pills and what happens when we feel our testosterone slip away.
We rarely focus on the man who is widowed or the boy who is being sexually abused.
So when these things happen to us, as men, we tend to internalize, and we may either turn inward or we may lash out.
No one really teaches us men how to be strong in our weakness, how to speak the words we really mean, how to accept defeat when our reputation is at stake.
In some ways, Jonah could be a Patron Saint for all men who have found themselves in situations they never wanted to be in the first place.
In some ways Jonah is our stand in for when we face rough seas and would rather sleep, when we are feeling swallowed by darkness, when we feel we’ve been made the fool, for when the perceived bad guy gets away.
But here’s the cool thing- I love how God responds to Jonah. I love how God let Jonah have his moment.
Just as God shows mercy to Nineveh, God shows the same womb-love to Jonah.
When Jonah expresses his wish to die, God doesn’t dismiss his emotions, God does not immediately correct him.
God assists Jonah with working through his emotions by responding with a teachable question “Is it right for you to be angry?”
When Jonah’s response is to walk away and sulk in solitude, God does not desert Jonah. God is still right there.
God gives space for Jonah to feel anger. God acknowledges Jonah’s anger.
Then, God reminds Jonah who God is-
“Should I not be concerned about those who don’t know their right from their left?”
Is God talking about Nineveh?
Is God talking about Jonah?
Is God talking about us?
Once again, we witness how God is free.
Once again we witness how the Kingdom of God does not operate like the kingdoms of the world.
Once again we see how very human our spiritual ancestors were.
Once again we realize just how much kindness and humility, passion and compassion really play in our faith.
Jonah wants kingdom wrath, God shows Kingdom Love.
Jonah wants God to be cruel knowing full well that God is merciful.
Jonah wants to be left alone, God says I am always right by your side.
Jonah is just a human, flawed, imperfect, in his own ego.
But this does not stop God from being by his side and giving him another chance to grow and to learn.
God’s grace, God’s mercy, God’s womb-love.
For that we can say amen and amen.