Today seems to be “Complaining” Sunday. The lectionary gives us a choice of two readings from the Old Testament. The first is the story of the Israelites complaining against Moses and Aaron in the desert after their deliverance from the land of Egypt (Ex 16:2-15). They’re hungry and tired, and beginning to think that bondage in Egypt wasn’t so bad after all. “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread;” they lament, “for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
The second passage, which we just heard, is from the book of Jonah (3:10-4:11). You’ll remember that Jonah was the reluctant prophet chosen by God to warn the people of Nineveh to turn from their evil ways. It comes as a surprise and a disappointment to Jonah when the people actually do repent in response to his preaching, and he becomes angry — angry enough to die! he claims. The Lord then raises up a bush to provide shade for Jonah and he is consoled. But when the bush withers, Jonah’s anger returns and he starts complaining again, suggesting to God how unfair it is that God has chosen to be merciful to the Ninevites. Apparently Jonah thought they deserved to be punished!