Once again, we are offering a devotional based on the Morning Office readings for each weekday of Lent. Join Fr. Greg, Mo. Jenna, Mo. Ellen, and Deacon Ashley in the Lenten practice of “reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”
“Is it good for you to be angry?”
That’s how the Common English Bible translates God’s question to Jonah as he throws a bit of a tantrum. Our office this morning says, “Is it right for you to be angry?” but I prefer the subtle shift in the question as it’s rendered in the other translation. It changes God’s question from a moral argument into one of concern for Jonah’s own soul. Jonah is frustrated, indignant, enraged that God should change his mind and forgive the evil done by the Ninevites. After all, they don’t deserve it: “I knew you’d do this, God! Iknew your mercy would win out!” Jonah is so angry he prays that God should take his life.
“Is it good for you to be angry?” You see, God’s justice and mercy are complicated and mysterious. And Jonah doesn’t answer the question. You see, our response to God’s justice and mercy is complicated and mysterious, too.
Ash Wednesday reminds us of our own mortality, yes, but also our own finitude, our own smallness, our own pettiness: the part of us that rages right alongside Jonah. The person who hurt us decades ago but our stomach still churns to think about them; the crime on the news report so horrific we can’t imagine a punishment bad enough; the small slight, no big deal to someone else perhaps, but the one that just grazes our particular tender spot in such a way that it explodes with dull pain.
Ash Wednesday also reminds us of how God meets our finitude: with boundless compassion, love, and care: “Is it good for you to be angry?” God takes the ash of our own limits, our own smallness, and marks on our very face a reminder of his mercy; the reminder that no matter what we do or don’t do, no matter how short we fall, we belong to God, and so does every face we look upon. Thanks be to God.
I wish you all a holy Lent.
image is “Jonah and the Gourd Vine,” by Jack Baumgartner, 1999.