I recently led a Bible study session on the book of Jonah. During my preparation, I came across an interesting parallel that unfortunately didn’t make it into my lesson notes: the similarity between Jonah and the prodigal son’s elder brother.
In Jonah chapter 4, we see the prophet angry at God’s having shown mercy to the pagan and (in his estimation) most undeserving Ninevites. In the parable as told by Jesus, the prodigal’s brother is similarly indignant at his father’s showing mercy to his undeserving brother.
As regards the Ninevites’ and the prodigal’s unworthiness to receive mercy, Jonah and the brother were spot-on. What Jonah and the brother (standing in for the religious leaders of Jesus’ day) forgot in their self-righteousness is that they too were undeserving. Just like me: I don’t deserve God’s mercy more than anyone else. Yet, I sometimes tend to view some people (e.g. corrupt politicians) as unworthy of God’s compassion. I want retribution, not mercy for them.
The Apostle Paul, writing on the topic of Israel’s history said that those things were written as warnings for us. Not just as cute stories, but as lessons for us to keep us from evil. Thankfully, God is a loving and compassionate Father who is patient with us. May we learn to show the same love, compassion and patience to others.