Some years ago there was a gal the news media called “Garbage Mary.” When police picked her up at a shopping mall in Delray, Florida and took her to the hospital for evaluation, she was a filthy mess. So was her car. So was her two bedroom apartment. Neighbors told of her scrounging through garbage cans in search of food which she took back to her apartment. Police found the garbage everywhere – in the refrigerator, in the oven, in the sink, in the cabinets, even in the bathtub.
But the police found other stuff too. They found Mobil Oil stock worth more than $400,000. They found documents indicating she owned oil fields in Kansas, stock certificates from prominent firms, and passbooks from eight large bank accounts. It turned out that Garbage Mary was the daughter of a well-to-do lawyer and bank director from Illinois who had died several years earlier. She was in fact a millionaire. But she lived like a pauper. Great wealth was at her fingertips, but she spent her life sifting through garbage and trash – as though God had given her nothing at all.
One senses something like this in the life of Jonah. He is himself a prophet of the one true God. He is blessed to belong to the people of promise awaiting a Savior. He is honored by God to proclaim His word. Admittedly, he lives in troubled times. Israel cares little about his sermons. God’s order to call the heathen citizens of Nineveh to repentance is less than appealing. But then, when the people of Nineveh actually repent, Jonah complains!
It’s like that older son in our Lord’s parable of the prodigal son. Tired and sweaty, he comes home in the evening. He sees all the lights on in the house. He hears the music and celebrating. His younger, runaway brother has come home. The older son is anything but happy. The father’s forgiveness does not sit well with him. He argues with the father, referring to his younger brother as “this son of yours.”
The father turns it all around: “This brother of yours was dead and is alive again. He was lost and is found.” Why is the older brother so bitter, miserable and angry? He has forgotten who and what he himself is – a son of the father by grace, privileged to be in the father’s house. Sadly it has never occurred to him to wake up one morning and say something like: “Father, today I am especially happy to be your child.” You and I do not think much about this. We bask in the sunshine of God’s love. We move through the day with unfettered hearts because Christ Jesus has borne our burdens and carried our sorrows on the cross. Every peak and valley is gilded with the glory of Easter morning. Let us be happy in our Father’s house! And let us be happy for others when they find their way home.