Wednesday, October 05, 2011

When Good Things Happen to “Bad” People

Wednesday of the Twenty-Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

October 5, 2011

By Colleen O'Sullivan

Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry that God did not carry out the evil he threatened against Nineveh. He prayed, "I beseech you, Lord, is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? This is why I fled at first to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and merciful God,
slow to anger, rich in clemency, loathe to punish. And now, Lord, please take my life from me;
for it is better for me to die than to live." But the Lord asked, "Have you reason to be angry?"

(S)hould 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?" (Jonah 4:1-4, 11)

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him,
"Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples." He said to them, "When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name, your Kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test."

(Luke 11:1-4)


For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
abounding in kindness to all who call upon you.
Hearken, O Lord, to my prayer
and attend to the sound of my pleading.

(Psalm 86:5-6)


Both of my parents are only children, so I have no aunts, uncles or first cousins, just a brother and a sister. I envy those of you who have big families and get to go to family reunions. But, when I was a child, I didn’t feel that way. I remember telling my mom once that I was glad we didn’t have any cousins, because that way we didn’t have to share my grandmother, as if she wouldn’t have had sufficient love to go around. How self-centered we can be at times!

In today’s first reading, we find Jonah in self-centered mode. God calls him to go to the people of Nineveh and tell them to repent. Jonah, after taking a big detour involving several days in the belly of a big fish, finally does what the Lord asks of him. The Ninevites turn from their sinful ways and God shows them mercy and forgiveness. You would think Jonah would be thrilled, but, no, he’s furious! He wants God all for his own people, Israel. He doesn’t want to share. He wishes that God had carried out his threats and destroyed the Assyrians, traditional enemies of Israel. He can’t stand it when good things happen to people who, in his estimation, are bad or unworthy. God tells Jonah that his mercy, compassion and forgiveness are for everyone, most especially for those people who don’t know their right hand from their left. He even takes care of their animals, so why wouldn’t He also extend his graciousness to men, women and children?

Jesus takes the concept of forgiveness to another level while answering the disciples’ request that He teach them how to pray. Yes, pray for God’s forgiveness, He says, but also remember that we should be able to say forgive us as we forgive those who have hurt and wronged us.


When we examine our consciences, how similar to Jonah do we find ourselves? Do we want to hoard God’s love and graciousness all for ourselves and those we feel comfortable with, those who are like us? Are there particular groups we think are beyond God’s mercy? Are there times we resent God’s goodness to individuals we’ve labeled “bad,” people who’ve hurt us or those we love?

As the psalmist says, the Lord is good and forgiving, abounding in kindness to all who call upon Him. Be thankful for God’s mercy and compassion toward us, and pray for the ability to share that with others, no strings attached.