In Jonah chapter 4, the prophet is asked the same question twice by the Lord, “Is it right for you to be angry?” It seems to me that a lot of personal grief and psychic damage would be avoided, a lot of physical destruction escaped, if we could ask this question of ourselves. Maybe, with care and respect, the question could also be asked sometimes of those whom we love but see in a frenzy of mad anger. “Is it right for you to be angry?”
Below the sermon audio is, basically, the sermon text.
Sermon preached at Trinity Church, Newport RI
Sunday September 24 2017
The Reverend Alan Neale
Jonah 4:4 and Jonah 4:9 “And the LORD said [to Jonah], “Is it right for you to be angry?”
Within the space of only five Biblical verses we read the same question twice… “Is it right for you to be angry?”
It is as if a Biblical textual 2×4 has struck against our consciousness; the question, the dynamic is very important and should not be ignored, underestimated or dismissed.
First, four preliminary comments (don’t worry!)
1. Our text suggests an invitation to conversation. The Lord ever treats us with respect, never condescending in conversation nor egregious in engagement. When the prophet Ezekiel first encounters the Lord, he falls to the ground but before the Lord talks with Ezekiel he commands him… “Stand on your feet”. With the glorious benefit of hindsight and objectivity, we might be tempted to treat the recalcitrant and petty-minded Jonah with disdain, but not the Lord who has created him and for a special purpose.
2. Our text describes a process of reflection. The Lord encourages us to be reflective people; refusing to settle for immediate satisfaction but rather accepting the vocation to live our lives responding rather than reacting to situations that confront and meet us daily. People who resolutely refuse to have their actions shaped by external forces but rather fashioned by our best instincts and desires.
3. Our text does not condemn all anger. Passionate outrage, conscientious objection need not, should not be dismissed by the Christian as somehow unbecoming, inappropriate or just not “quite us!” The conversation between Jonah and his creator begins not with a statement of anger being wrong, but with an inquiry as to whether anger is appropriate. The abused child, parent, partner should not hear in these texts a condemnation of their outrage; nor should any community or social group within a country that is founded on liberty and respect for all.
4. Following our text, Jonah comments, “Yes, I am angry… angry enough to die” (4:9) – oh Jonah, be careful, beware… you are now treading on dangerous ground… landmines abound and quicksand is prevalent. Anger can kill the one who is angry, who is literally “nursing anger” until it gains full strength to do its work of destruction.
In Jonah 4 and in Matthew 20, anger threatens to attack, paralyze and destroy the aggrieved unless they come to their senses and, with all the power they have, to reflect and assess.
Plato says the un-examined life is not worth living; well, the unreflective mind does not lead to healthy living either.
Jonah and our grumbling laborers need take to heart the words of Fagin in the musical Oliver “I am reviewing the situation.”
I suspect that Jonah and our grumbling laborers were angry, in part, because they were angry at themselves. Jonah admits that he should have known better, that his expectations were in error; and no doubt the grumbling laborers are kicking themselves that they need not negotiate a better wage, a more attractive salary package.
At the heart, though, of their misplaced anger is their signal inability, their wanton intent, their nearsighted propensity to see the Lord only in their own terms. It has been said that God created man in His/her own image and man very kindly returned the compliment. Jonah and the grumbling laborers work from an image of God that is corrupt and misshapen. Basically their God is not gracious, does not walk graciously and without grace deals with her/his creation.
Friends, maybe here is one of the fundamental errors that the Christian mind can make; we expect no more from the Lord than we expect of ourselves and from this unbalanced and undeveloped image we commit ourselves to action that leads to inappropriate anger and self-destructive outrage.
Recently Wendy and I had the joy of welcoming a guest to our home who was/is a Moslem. We talked a lot about our faith with respect and attention. I told him that we Christians needed much to learn from Islam about surrender to the divine will; but I also shared with him that we Christians have a gift to share about the incessant, eternal, unending, omnipresent grace of God.
With enviable faith and surrender Paul tells the Christians at Philippi that he is ready to live or to die; such a faith is only made possible by the experience of grace.
In his seminal book, Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson writes “If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. The grouch and the brainstorm were not for us. They may be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcoholics these things are poison” (pg. 66). And in the book ‘Daily Reflections’ this actually is read on April 16 – my birthday! Alan, nota bene!
“Anger – a dubious luxury for normal people.” Lord, help me to know when I am normal enough to enjoy this luxury!