At some point in life we all want mercy. We want the law enforcement officer who pulled us over for to look past the law and rules and cut us some slack. We want that bill that we were late on paying to not count against our credit score. We want to pull on the "everyone is human" strings and count on those to provide us a blanket of mercy in our time of need. But do we want to give it? Particularly to those we have the most conflict with; those we interact with on a daily basis who are the "nails-on-chalkboard" to our day?
Jonah was sent to Nineveh to preach their destruction if they did not turn from their evil ways and repent. Jonah disobeyed and in trying to run from God, found himself in the belly of a whale. As he sat in the darkness with the stench of gastric juices and partially digested whale food, Jonah cried out to God and repented of his actions and vowed to turn back to God if God would deliver him. We know the story, the whale vomited Jonah onto dry ground. Jonah immediately traveled to Nineveh and told the city that if they didn't repent from their wickedness that God was going to destroy the city. Jonah delivered his message, then stepped back to watch the city destroyed. Strangely enough, the city "from the greatest down to the least repented in sackcloth and ashes...and God saw what they did, how they had turned from their evil way, and God relented of the disaster".
As much as I wish the story ended there, it doesn't. Jonah witnesses an entire city of positively changed hearts and lives and becomes "angry". The most ironic part of the book, and one of my favorite of the Bible is when Jonah tries to "call out" God. He says," O Lord, is this not what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster." Understand what is happening here-Jonah is upset about God's love and mercy-the same love and mercy that allowed him to be saved from the whale. Jonah calls out God's "soft spot" in His heart for his creation. As Robert Frost said, "After Jonah, you could never trust God not to be merciful again."
Jonah stomps off to fume in the desert where a vine provides him shade from the scorching desert sun. Then a worm comes and kills the vine and Jonah becomes so angry at the plant dying that he says to God "just let me die". God points out the irony of Jonah wanting 120,000 plus souls to perish while a single plant lives. As stated in "Robert Frost: The Ethics of Ambiguity", "Quantitative assessment of mercy is always secondary to the ethical quality of the act itself."
Remember this, if nothing else. We want God's mercy, therefore we must extend mercy. God surprises us with extending His mercy all throughout the Bible, therefore we must pray that He give us the same and help us to give mercy to those who are the most challenging in our lives.