Jon 4:1-11; Ps 86:3-10; Lk 11:1-14
The servant of the LORD is glad of heart only when all the nations come and worship the LORD God Almighty. The servant of the LORD prays daily for mercy and calls daily upon the Name of the LORD. For the LORD is good and forgiving, abounding in kindness to all who call upon him, not just the children of Israel. All who call upon him, even the Ninevites. Jonah, the reluctant servant of the LORD, had yet to learn that the LORD would hearken and attend to the pleading sound of any of his children, to the prayers of anyone, of any nation. Few among the exiles and certainly not the prophet believed that, “All the nations you have made shall come and worship you, O Lord, and glorify your name. For you are great, and you do wondrous deeds; you alone are God. ” The greatness and mercy of the LORD our God is something we are slow to embrace and reluctant to integrate. Jonah was angry enough to die because God did not share his narrow nationalistic vindictiveness. Jonah had a lot to learn, even though he was a prophet. The Lord Jesus has much to teach us about prayer, too much for us to absorb in one lesson. So, the Lord Jesus keeps it simple; he teaches the Disciples Prayer, what we often call the Lord’s Prayer. At each Liturgy we pray as our Savior taught, and still we have much to learn about prayer.
Jonah is full of self-pity as he suffers the loss of a shady gourd plant, yet he has no concern about the threat of loss of life to the Ninevites through the destruction of their city. Indeed, he wants God to carry through on his threat; Jonah wants the destruction of Nineveh and of all Israel’s enemies. His prayer is honest and from the heart, yet his heart is small and full of bitterness. This prophet of the Most High does not want to learn about God’s greatness and mercy. He wants to witness God’s wrath and righteous punishment for sin, especially the sins of his enemies. In contrast with the prophet’s anger is the great joy in heaven over the repentance of an entire city. With tongue in cheek the LORD pokes fun at Jonah’s anger asking, “Have you reason to be angry?” Jonah was not amused, and he responded all too seriously, “angry enough to die.” The LORD continued to pursue the heart of his prophet, even as he had used the prophet’s preaching to pursue the Ninevites. The LORD gave Jonah the shade of a gourd plant to protect him from the heat of day while he waited for the LORD to smite the city. The plant died the next morning, and God did not destroy Jonah’s enemies. This was too much. Still, the LORD did not give up, and he tried to reason with his prophet. So the LORD explained, “You are concerned over the plant which cost you no labor and which you did not raise; it came up in one night and in one night it perished. And should I not be concerned over Nineveh, the great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot distinguish their right hand from their left, not to mention the many cattle?” The LORD is kind and merciful beyond the prophet’s expectations; even the animals get a break. Such gracious kindness takes much prayer to grasp and even more prayer for it to grasp us.
Unlike the reluctant prophet, the disciples of the Lord Jesus were eager to ask for instruction in prayer. Many times they had watched him praying; this time they had courage enough to ask, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.” It was the custom of prophets and holy men to teach their disciples how to pray. It was also dangerous to ask this question because anyone who treasured self-pity or lack of forgiveness in the heart would be severely challenged. So the Lord Jesus taught them, “forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us.” The disciple needs to pray for forgiveness; the Lord does not. This is a disciple’s prayer. In it we dare daily to ask for the same forgiveness we give to all who have hurt us. If we are caught up in self-pity or if we refuse to forgive those who hurt us, then we are not forgiven. Such is the challenge that praying as the Lord taught has for us here and at every Liturgy.