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While Others Prosper

This is a thing I wrote for House of Mercy's Feast of Jonah service. If you're not really into biblical stuff, you can sit this one out. Then again, it's not that bad...

I like the church song “Farther Along.” I especially like this line: “Then we do wonder why others prosper, living so wicked, year after year.” For some reason, it’s especially satisfying if you sing it in a southern accent.

It really is a conundrum, isn’t it? How the wicked prosper, year after year, while God turns nice people like Jonah into fish vomit? According to the lyrics, I guess we’re supposed to trudge along, grateful when we get spat out on dry land. Don’t worry, the song says. Someday we’ll get it. Cheer up, my brother.

Jonah was grateful for a while—almost cheerful—until he realized God was going to be all-merciful to the Ninevites. It’s easy to be grateful in the moments after God delivers you from the dark pit of the fish’s innards. We’ve all been there. And when you finally feel there is life outside the pit, for most of us, the first reaction is "Thank you, God!" And then without really thinking about it, it’s almost natural to add, “You have delivered me from the darkness because I am good and righteous. Hallelujah!”

But then you blink your eyes open in the full light of God’s grace, and you notice the wicked people are still here. And they seem to be doing pretty well. Some of them may be talking a good line, about the good things they do or how they’ve redeemed themselves. But you can see right through them, so you have to assume God knows. They’re not acting out of love, but out of fear and greed. It’s obvious they have only their own best interests at heart. And yet, God forgives them. More than that, God seems to like those evil-doers as much as us.

It makes me want to sulk for a bit. Just sit down in some spot outside town and think my angry, sullen thoughts. And then, just to be funny, almost as a humorous little afterthought, God has a little vine grow above my head. The vine provides some relief. It’s comfortable there, in the sullen shade. This vine seems to understand me. The more I sit there, the more I realize that the vine actually took it upon itself to be there for me in my time of disappointment. Unlike that merciful God who loves everyone unconditionally, this shade is here for me.

And just when I’m starting to feel comfortable in my brooding, another of God’s creatures appears. A worm shows up and eats the vine, which then shrivels and dies. The one thing I had, the one thing that was prospering in my little world, is gone. Now I’m exposed, in the bright light of God’s mercy and love, along with everyone else.
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