If Jonah’s being swallowed by the fish seems a little unreal, then his attitude seems even more unreal. Why is it that Jonah is so displeased that God would show compassion to the Ninevites? Why should he be jealous? His problem was that even though he knew that God is gracious and merciful, he didn’t come close to understanding God and his values.
God used the withered plant to teach Jonah a lesson. Jonah was disappointed that the plant had died. The point of the tale is that if Jonah had some form of pity for the plant, then why shouldn’t God, who created everything and everyone, show pity towards the people of Nineveh?
Today the story of Jonah finds a parallel with some people who think that God’s favour is something we should earn as if a price could be paid to God for his mercy and love. Some people judge God by those human standards, which say that you are entitled only to those things for which you work, and work hard. As a consequence, they become self-righteous and they are indignant when they hear of a deathbed conversion or something similar. They fail to understand that God loves people gratuitously simply because they are his creation.
We should see another reason why God gives his love so freely. And that reason is implicit in the Gospel. When Our Lord teaches us to call God ‘Our Father’, it is clearly implied that we have become God’s children. Good parents love their children, not because of their accomplishments, but simply because they are their children. It’s a love that is freely given, not earned. And God loves us in exactly the same way.