This is such a quiet verse; so small and just before the really big story line begins.
It reminds me of Paul at Areopagus in Acts chapter 17, one of my favorite passages in the Bible. Or maybe, Paul’s story is reminiscent of Jonah.
If you’ll remember, Paul came to Athens and was then brought into the Areopagus and was asked to talk about “this new teaching.” Paul begins, “I perceive that you are very religious. For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship…” and he then goes onto proclaim to them the unknown God.
Similarly, Jonah is brought up to the deck and then interrogated. Who are you? What do you believe?
But notice the mercy in both Paul and Jonah’s response. Neither one of them condemn the men for what they are worshipping. Neither one of them tell them they are wasting their time because those gods are dead.
Rather, Paul says “I perceive that in every way you are religious…” and then he goes on from there to proclaim the Unknown God. And Jonah states simply, “I worship the God of heaven and earth.” And boom he goes overboard.
We come in contact with all sorts of people during our day: coworkers, our children’s friends’ parents, neighbors. Many of them are panicked throwing things overboard trying to simplify their lives and getting rid of whatever they don’t need to calm the raging sea.
Others are reading all the books they can find - wandering around the modern day Areopagus, fascinated by all the teachings that drift through their lives; trying to be enlightened men of the times and yet stumbling in the dar.
Still others might be drifting from church to church, belief to belief: eastern mysticism, Protestantism, the Church of Christ without Christ. They are religious, but don’t know who the unknown God is.
What would being “merciful like the Father” mean in these cases?
We often read about “heart strings” when we pray to God, where it feels like our heart is being physically tugged up to heaven to meet him there. But what if we could actually take the love of the Father and reach out to others?
What if we could practice using those “heart strings” to reach out to our neighbors? It might be simply scooting over on the bleacher at our kids sporting event to make room for the lonely hearted. It might be as simple as picking up someone else’s child from school for them. Or, it might prove more difficult, listening to someone when they spoke to you.
What if we could practice loving our neighbor like Jesus loves us? Not worrying about “converting” them, or “showing them God’s love” so much as just plain loving them, without regard for the end result? Indeed we might be like Jonah, supplying a need and then jumping ship, so to speak, so that we never see that at another time people make sacrifices and vows to God.
According to St. Thomas Aquinas, mercy is the compassion in our hearts for another person’s misery, a compassion that drives us to do what we can to help him (ST. II-II.30.2).
Can you do that this week?
Let’s ask God to teach our hearts to truly love our neighbor so that we might show them mercy. And then, pay attention to your heart and let it reach out to your neighbor without regard for what it might receive in return.