In my personal—but correct—opinion, The Princess Bride is the best movie ever. Hands down.
And one of the best lines from the movie takes place just after Vizzini cuts the rope that The Dread Pirate Roberts is climbing up:
Vizzini : He didn’t fall? Inconceivable!
Inigo Montoya : You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
Consider Cinco de Mayo.
I do not think it means what you think it means.
No, it isn’t Mexico’s Independence Day. That’s September 16. No, it isn’t Revolution Day. That’s celebrated on the third Monday in November. It isn’t even the Day of the Virgen de Guadalupe. That would be December 12.
But in Mexico, each of these holidays are bigger events than Cinco de Mayo.
Cinco de Mayo actually commemorates the Mexican army’s victory over the French forces led by Napoleon III (Bonaparte’s nephew) at the Battle of Puebla (a small town in east-central Mexico) on May 5, 1862.
Mexico had borrowed a lot of money and France came to collect. It was notable because 6,000 French troops faced 2,000 Mexican soldiers at daybreak. By evening, Mexico had claimed the victory.
However, Cinco de Mayo is a really big deal in the United States. Especially after the 1980’s when the major beer companies started promoting it. But in Mexico, outside of the state of Puebla, it really isn’t celebrated all that much.
Sure, it’s important. So are the Cheyenne Frontier Days, if you’re from there. Lauded as the “World’s Largest Outdoor Rodeo and Western Celebration”, they’ve been celebrated in Wyoming every year since 1897.
But Frontier Days isn’t celebrated in Texas. In Texas they’d probably say, “Largest? I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Perhaps we could say the same thing about Jonah.
You know the story. Jonah gets a word from God: “Go at once to Ninevah, that great city, and proclaim judgment upon it; for their wickedness has come before me.” Ninevah is an ancient and powerful enemy of Israel.
Don’t miss that: Ninevah is the ENEMY of Israel.
Jonah bolts in the opposite direction and sails away from Ninevah. God raises a storm that endangers the whole crew on the ship. And Jonah has them chuck him overboard.
This should have killed Jonah. But God sends a fish to swallow him up, and Jonah remains in its belly for three days and nights. Jonah finally prays for deliverance, and God commands the fish to spit Jonah up onto land.
Now most people tune out here. But this is Jonah, not Pinocchio. We’re only halfway through the story.
God commands Jonah one more time. And this time, Jonah obeys. He goes to the city and proclaims, “In forty days Ninevah will be destroyed!”
The unrighteous king of Ninevah doesn’t realize that an immutable God can’t actually take things back. So he orders everyone, “Repent! Cry out to God! Who knows? Maybe God will take it back.”
So the people repent. And guess what? God takes it back.
There’s your Bible Story Happy Ending! Right?
Hang on. I do not think it means what you think it means.
The whole city is saved. But Jonah is ticked!
He prays—actually, he vents at God: “This is why I ran the other way! I know you’re a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in kindness, renouncing punishment.”
“Kill. Me. Now.”
“I’d rather die than live.”
Woah! This is a Bible story for CHILDREN?!!
Actually, it sounds more like a Bible story ABOUT children.
Jonah stomps out of the city and sits down and sulks. And he waits and hopes that something bad will happen to Ninevah.
Instead, God starts sending new things to Jonah. Nice things. But with little irritating twists.
First, God provides Jonah a plant for shade. But then He sends a worm to kill the plant.
Then, God sends Jonah a pleasant wind. But then He sends a punishingly hot sun.
Finally, the story ends with God lecturing Jonah like a spoiled child:
“This plant grew up overnight and died overnight. You didn’t plant it or make it grow. Yet, you feel sorry for this plant. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for this important city, Nineveh? It has more than 120,000 people in it as well as many animals.”
Jonah 4:10-11 GWT
Jonah was so caught up in his own self-righteousness that all he could care about was himself and a stupid plant. Meanwhile, God was having compassion for a hundred and twenty thousand people who were trapped in their own ignorance.
Oh. And their animals, too!
Today, pause and consider. Who are you more like? The self-righteous guy who wants to see hell-fire and brimstone rain down on the bad people of the world? Or the unrighteous guy who cries out to God and prays for help?
I’m certainly glad that God is the way He is, and not like me. Because if God were like me, most days I wouldn’t stand a chance.
Mercy should look the same when we’re giving it as when we’re desiring to receive it. Otherwise, I do not think it means what you think it means.
Make this your prayer today: God, help me to see people the way you see them. Help me be quick to show mercy to everyone, because mercy is what I want for myself. Help me take my eyes off myself and put them on You, and put them on others. For the sake of your Kingdom, Amen.