Do you know the story of Jonah from the Bible? It is a short book, only 47 verses, that appears towards the back of the Old Testament. You are probably familiar with the fact that he was swallowed by a whale. The Bible actually doesn’t say whale; it just says a “big fish,” but that is not overly important to the story. Do you know what led up to that moment or what happened after? If not, allow me to briefly sum it up.
Jonah was called by God to go to Nineveh. This was the capital city of Assyria, which was Israel’s neighbor to the northeast. It is important to know that Israel and Assyria did not get along. In fact, the story of Jonah took place just a few decades before Assyria defeated Israel in a war and took the Israelites captive. Nevertheless, God called Jonah, a Jew, to go and preach to his enemies and try to lead them to God. Jonah wanted nothing to do with this. He decided to board a ship and sail to Tarshish, which is in modern-day Spain. In other words, he was trying to get as far away from Nineveh and God’s calling as he could.
While he was on the ship, a great storm came. Jonah believed that God sent the storm because of him, so he asked the other men on the ship to throw him overboard. He thought that it was better that he perish than all of them. As he was sinking to the bottom of Mediterranean Sea, God sent a big fish to swallow him. He spent the next three days in the belly of the fish. I cannot imagine that this was a pleasant experience. Then, the fish “vomited” Jonah on to land— which happened to be Nineveh.
While he was there, he preached to the Ninevites, and they changed their ways and decided to follow God. Success, right? The story then takes an odd turn, and Jonah was unhappy about the people’s response to his message. Why was this? Scripture doesn’t say for sure, but I have my opinion on it. I believe that Jonah was unhappy because he did not want to see the Ninevites come to faith because they were his enemy. He had spent his whole life despising these people. Now, they have come to faith in the God that he believed was only for the Jews. Jonah’s whole worldview was challenged.
I think that Jonah believed that the Ninevites were less than and didn’t deserve God’s grace. Unfortunately, this is not a notion that has died out in the centuries that have passed since he lived. In Jesus’ day, the Jews believed that the messiah was only coming to redeem them. However, we can read about how Jesus was regularly ministering to gentiles (non-Jews). We even see him caring for Samaritans, who the Jews reviled, and Romans, who were oppressing the Jews. These were Israel’s enemies at the time. Jesus didn’t care. Just like with the story of Jonah, we see that God’s love knows no borders.
There is nobody who is seen as a less than when it comes to God’s love. In all honestly, not a one of us deserve his grace. We are all sinners who have fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:26). On top of that, Jesus died for all (1 Corinthians 5:15; also, the whole Bible). Every person is in the exact same boat— sinners in need of grace. Why then would we ever consider anyone less than? There is no room for hatred in God’s kingdom. There is absolutely no biblical justification for considering anyone as inferior. There are a million ways in which we can divide ourselves: nationally, racially, politically, socioeconomically, etc. These are all man-made lines that do not exist in God’s eyes. He loves everyone, period. We all need to search our hearts. Is there any group of people that you consider worthless? Is there anyone that you would prefer to jump on a ship to get as far away from as possible rather than share with them the love of God?
We all have our prejudices. Most of these are taught to us from the times that we are kids. If we pretend that we don’t, then we do everyone a disservice. We need to get over ourselves and accept that God loves them just as much as us. Perhaps, God may even want to use us to share his love with them. Jonah is a story of God’s love for all and people’s preconceived notions against that. It is imperative that, as God’s people, we love everyone with the same love in which he has loved us. Afterall, that is the new commandment that Jesus gave in John 13:34.