You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?
Jonah considered himself a victim. He was convinced that he was right in believing that Nineveh should receive judgment and that God was wrong to have rescued the city. He was also convinced that God was wrong in allowing the shade-bearing plant to shrivel, leaving him to suffer in the heat.
In response, God did not engage with the prophet according to his sorrowful objection but instead raised an important question: “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” (Jonah 4:9). God was arguing from the lesser to the greater: if Jonah could be so phenomenally concerned about a plant that had come and gone in the space of 24 hours, didn’t He, the living God, have a right to be concerned about the people of Nineveh? God was calling Jonah to review his scale of priorities.
God’s question to Jonah is a question for us as well. Is there anything in our lives that we are more concerned about than seeing unbelieving people become committed followers of Jesus Christ? If we’re alert to our own hearts, we may realize that in regard to our time, finances, gifts, and freedoms, “Is there anything?” quickly becomes “How many things?” Those who observe us may think we’re far more concerned about matters of our own comfort than we are about the many souls who have never heard the gospel.
What was Jonah’s response to God’s question? We don’t know. The book of Jonah finishes with this divine question. But the most important question is not about how Jonah responded. The emphasis of the entire book is upon the compassion of God Himself. The most important question is this: How do we, the readers of the book, perceive God’s grace? Will His example establish in us a pattern of concern for others that longs for them to turn from sin and trust in Him? Will our hearts be more like Jonah’s or like the Lord’s?
It is time to stop setting any worldly concerns ahead of reaching the lost souls in our communities for Christ. We have the joy of knowing God’s compassion in our lives through Jesus. And the only fitting response to this great privilege is to give of ourselves so that others would come to know Him as well. What do you most care about? asks God. Your home? Your possessions? Your tech gadgets? Or the people in your street who do not know Jesus?