Posted by: Veroni Kruger | March 10, 2021

Jesus or Jonah

Today’s blog draws heavily on Bosch[1], 1980, p50-83.  David Bosch was a missiologist who worked in South Africa, but who was well known worldwide.  My own thinking about mission was deeply influenced by him.  His last work was published in 1991 under the title “Transforming Mission.  Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission.”  Although this work is much more comprehensive than the one published in 1980, the earlier work contains, to my mind, the core of what Bosch’s thinking on mission is.  It should be studied by everyone who is serious about the subject.        

The next heading is really the answer to the question:  Why Mission?  The answer to this question is to be found in the biblical perspective on mission.  This goes beyond merely providing a biblical motivation for mission, to also giving the biblical framework against which mission has to be seen.  

THE ULTIMATE GROUNDS FOR MISSION – GOD’S COMPASSION

The ultimate aim of mission is establishing the Kingdom of God.  The first and last grounds for mission are, however, God’s compassion.  These two parameters provide not only guidelines for determining what the nature of missionary activity should be.  They also point to an inexhaustible source of motivation and energy for the missionary task.  This is because both are centred on God himself.  

GOD’S COMPASSION IS UNDESERVED

This fact is illustrated in the election of Israel to be God’s people.

Deuteronomy 7.6-8 emphasizes the special position that the people of Israel have among the nations of the world (verse 6), as much as it lays emphasis on the fact that this position was not earned, but depended solely on the choice of God, and the promises He made to their ancestors (verses 7 and 8).

“6 For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. 7 The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”

Ezekiel 16.1-14 describes in powerful figurative language how Israel came into being, emphasizing that the nation had nothing but the compassion of God to rely on for its survival.

The same fact is emphasized in that key verse on salvation in the New Testament:  John 3.16.  Why did God give his only Son?  The answer is clear:  because He loved the world.  In light of the Scriptures quoted above about the election of Israel, the reason for his love will be found only in his compassion for people. 

It is this fact that motivates mission.  The question “Why should we be involved in mission?” needs no further answer than “Because God loves people and has compassion for them.”   

JESUS AND JONAH:  COMPLETE OPPOSITES

Jesus is the perfect example of compassion.  One only has to look at Luke 4.16-30 to see how Jesus identified Himself completely with the compassion of God and saw the fulfilment of his mission in demonstrating that compassion.  None of the groups mentioned would be able to provide any motivation why they should be the objects of God’s mercy, other than the compassion of God.  

Jonah, on the other hand, is the complete antithesis of what a missionary should be.

Called by God, Jonah continues heedlessly to do what he thinks will be best for him (Jonah 1.3 – “headed for Tarshish”).  Mandated with a special message for Nineveh, he is disobedient (Jonah 1.3 – “Jonah ran away from the Lord”).  Although he was well informed about God, he behaves in a manner that is completely foolish (in the storm at sea, and again when the people of Nineveh repent).  He is one of God’s people, yet he is irresponsible (he does not seek God, even when the pagan crew are calling on their gods; what did he think would happen to him after he was thrown into the sea?).

But the climax of Jonah’s disappointing behaviour comes when he is angry with God for being merciful to the people of Nineveh, and then does not understand the lesson God is teaching him through the vine that grows miraculously to shelter him from the sun (Jonah 4). 

The book of Jonah ends in a very unsatisfactory manner, with Jonah’s unforgiving behaviour emphasized by the abruptness of the ending.  The message is aptly summarized in the following poem[2].

ARE WE LIKE JESUS OR LIKE JONAH?

And Jonah stalked
to his shaded seat
and waited for God to come around
to his way of thinking.

And God is still waiting
for host of Jonahs
to come around
to his way of loving.

Let us never forget that we ourselves have been saved saved only by the grace of God, the One “who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.” (1 Timothy 2.4, NLT)


[1] Bosch, David J., 1980.  Witness to the World.   Atlanta:   John Knox Press  

Bosch, David.  1991.  Transforming Mission.  Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission.  Maryknoll: Orbis.

[2] “Coming Around” by Thomas John Carlisle, in Carlisle, 1968


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