February 11, 2014
Hot tears streamed down her face as Amy sat with her friend Megan. “I just don’t understand how anyone could be so mean!” Amy said. Megan’s face melted from concern to rage as she listened to the story. Her friend did not deserve such treatment. Life had handed her enough obstacles; she didn’t need another. Amy was partially blind but fiercely independent—a combination that resulted in more than a few “accidents” around the school. Her bruised arms, peaking from beneath her tattered second-hand clothes, betrayed her latest miscalculation. Amy was late to class—she wasn’t used to her mom’s new schedule with a third job—and decided, against her better judgment, to run. She barely noticed the water fountain before tumbling over it.
These accidents were normal for Amy. She tried to embrace them without succumbing to the suffocating shame that seemed to accompany her disability. However, Aaron, the school bully, did not allow her that opportunity. He cackled with laughter as he and his minions catcalled Amy after this latest incident. Aaron wasn’t a good student, but he made up for it with his ability to break the spirits his peers. Amy was his go-to punch line.
Megan had heard enough. She watched Aaron humiliate too many people, caught too many of Amy’s tears on her shoulder. She fantasized about ways to get even as she walked home from Amy’s house. Her dreams were shuddered as she entered her kitchen and saw Aaron, the Aaron, sitting at her kitchen table. Her eyes, filled with fury, darted to her mother for an explanation.
“Honey,” Mom said, “I have terrific news. Aaron has asked for help in his studies and I’ve decided you are to tutor him. It is no small accomplishment to admit one’s need for help. And you get to be a little gift of joy in his life!”
Put yourself in Megan’s shoes. Would you tutor this boy? I wouldn’t. I would storm across the kitchen and give him a taste of the shame and ridicule he so richly deserved. The audacity and hypocrisy of the request would overwhelm me.
I imagine this is what Jonah felt like when God told him to preach to the Ninevites (Jonah 1-3). They were violent, pagan, and cruel—nailing political enemies to the ground and flaying their skin for display. Such cruelty deserved judgment, but God offered grace to this city (Jonah 3). Jonah, much like our friend Megan, was furious at this miscarriage of justice (Jonah 4). How could God give this city a free pass? How could he tolerate their wickedness? How could he treat them with such grace?
As I read Jonah 4, I am struck by God’s patient grace not only to the Ninevites but also to Jonah. He is a man who understands and accepts God’s free, unearned grace for himself (hence the living sermon illustration of the plant) but is unwilling to accept this same unearned grace going to the Ninevites (hence his suicidal rage). Jonah’s situation is understandable. There is something in human nature that hates for good things to happen to bad people. We hate to see the murderer get away with it. We hate to see cheaters rewarded. We hate to see the school bully receive help.
As I sat with this text, I’ve noticed that Jonah and I are very similar. Deep down I feel like I deserve God’s grace more than other people. I wouldn’t speak that out loud, but that is my underlying assumption. I imagine Jonah thinking, “I’ve been a loyal prophet. I’ve lived a life of commitment to Yahweh. I’ve repented, served, and sacrificed. God can’t give me shade for more than a day? (Jonah 4:6-9) Surely I deserve to get better treatment than the Ninevites! They are getting away with murder!”
God comes to Jonah (Jonah 4:10-11) to remind him that grace is never earned. It is never deserved. He appeals to Jonah’s compassion, showing how his misunderstanding of grace has killed his godly compassion for this city. The same is true for me. The same is true for Megan. Aaron doesn’t deserve to be tutored. He doesn’t deserve grace. But, neither does Megan. Maybe, just maybe, her tutoring a school bully might just be an opportunity to earn an opportunity to invite him to change. None of that is possible without a godly compassion fueled by grace.
God’s grace fuels our compassion. He then uses compassionate people to show his grace to others. It was compassionate Christians who nursed victims of the plague and encouraged potential martyrs during the first century—acts which profoundly impacted the influence of the gospel. More than that, it was a compassionate Jesus Christ who looked at helplessly sinful humanity and brought social justice, godly teaching, and an atoning, reconciling death on the cross. Humanity deserved none of that.
Do you have Aarons in your life, people you have trouble showing anything but rage/frustration for? I know I do. Perhaps you can join me in praying that God’s grace would transform your heart for those people—that it would fuel your compassion. After all, compassion is the forerunner to gracious ministry and that is exactly what we are at Gordon-Conwell to learn.
Tim Norton is a born-and-raised, small-town Southerner with the sweet tea addiction to prove it. He comes to Gordon-Conwell as a Kern Pastor-Scholar and plans to pursue pastoral ministry in the U.S. after graduation. Tim is a big personality with a strange affinity for the color orange. Currently, he attends GENESIS Church, an Acts 29 church plant in Woburn, MA.
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