Are There Boundaries to a Father’s Love?
The Prophet Jonah writes after the exile in a period when the people of Israel were very nationalistic. They were again in their homeland, the temple is rebuilt, they are a Chosen People and the other nations will know the wrath of God. Is there any wonder that the Book of Jonah was not always admitted to the list of the Sacred Books of Scripture among the Jewish people? As a prophet Jonah questions a narrow understanding of God’s love, shows it to be boundless, including even Israel’s worst enemies, and surprises us with the eager reception of God’s Word by the Ninevites.
Jonah knows God! We do not ‘know’ God, but Jonah as a prophet has a wonderful gift of indeed knowing the mystery of God’s love. "I knew that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger, rich in clemency, loathe to punish." These are words that all Israel knows from Moses encounter with God on Mt. Sinai. This could and perhaps should have been his message? But he is not happy with this understanding that God has shared with him. In their conversation God asks Jonah, "Have you reason to be angry?"
It seems that God and Jonah will play the game, ‘who will blink first’, as Jonah settles down to watch the city. God comforts Jonah in the heat with the shade of a vine and then God discomforts him sending a worm to kill the vine and its shade, and to leave Jonah unprotected from the sun and wind that follow. Jonah is miserable again, now that God has destroyed the comfort the vine provided.
God asks once again, "Have you reason to be angry?" If you are miserable, Jonah, about that little vine how do you think I feel about those whom I called ‘good’ when I worked at creation? How do I feel about the one hundred and twenty thousand people in Nineveh whom I watch over as God but who do not know me with the intimacy and knowledge that you have of me?
Through Jonah the prophet, God challenges Israel and us to go beyond boundaries, boundaries that are our boundaries for God, and to trust that God’s love and mercy exceed them.
Luke too tells us that Our Father’s love exceeds our boundaries. God is Holy, God provides for us, and God is forgiving. We are humble before God whom Jesus tells us is Our Father, we ask in our need, and with God’s help we are forgiving as God is forgiving to us.
Fr. William Murphy, CP is the pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Jamaica, New York.