There’s a lot of grumbling going on in today’s readings. I can relate. I am very good at grumbling. I find that when I am uncomfortable with the ways things are, and can’t do much about it, I grumble.
Poor Jonah. The guy never could get comfortable. He was uncomfortable with his God-given call to preach to Nineveh; he was uncomfortable in the arms of the sailors as they hoisted him over the boat’s edge and tossed him into the sea; he was—undoubtedly—uncomfortable in the fish’s belly; and he was uncomfortable and downright angry with God’s mercy on the people of Nineveh. Jonah is uncomfortable, and so like me, he grumbles:
“O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
Jonah is a world-class grumbler.
The same can be said about the laborers in Jesus’ parable in Matthew 20 which is our Gospel this week. The laborers who came in the early morning hours grumbled against the landowner because they were paid the same as others who started later and worked fewer hours. These laborers are ill-at-ease with the landowner’s choice “to give to this last the same as I give to you.” Like Jonah, they are uncomfortable with the unchecked mercy offered by the landowner/God. God doesn’t play by our rules, and that can be very discomforting for us all.
The one person we encounter on Sunday who doesn’t grumble is the one who has the most right reason to complain: the Apostle Paul. He is in jail again for disrupting the peace by bringing the Good News of the Gospel to the world. But instead of railing against the injustice he’s experiencing first hand, he celebrates the fact that he gets to take part in the Amazing Grace of Jesus: “I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.”
Our discomfort with grace manifests itself in all sorts of ways. It can be discomforting for us to engage the poor and the outcast of our society. It can be discomforting for us to welcome immigrants into our communities. It can be discomforting to address the pervasive racism that still surrounds us. And it can be very discomforting for us to open our lives to the transforming power of the cross of Christ, whereby “the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matt. 20:16).
Could it be that the more uncomfortable we become with the reckless love of God, the closer we are to understanding the meaning of grace? Maybe then we will stop grumbling and begin seeing things the way God sees them. Maybe our eyes will be opened by the same challenge God gives Jonah:
Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”