Jesus captured people’s attention with often curious words of love and deeds of compassion. “Love your enemies,” he once said to an incredulous crowd (Matt. 5:43-48). Hopeful words reminiscent of (a reluctant) Jonah preaching a message of salvation to his enemies, the Ninevites.
Jesus also said some disconcerting words equally at odds with conventional thinking. “Anyone who comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother… and children… he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). Reminiscent of Abraham who, at the command of God, took his only begotten son Isaac up a mountain to be sacrificed.
But God held no ill will toward Isaac just as he held no ill will toward Nineveh. There was a ram nearby “caught in a thicket by its horns” when Isaac asked, “…where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Gen. 22:1-19) Was the ram intended imagery of a captured man generations later? A man pierced with a tangle of thorns on his head (John 19:2)—the “Lamb of God” (John 1:36).
Jonah certainly was an intended picture, and final preview of the same (Matt. 12:38-40). Jonah preached to the “wicked and adulterous generation” of his day: the hundred-twenty thousand of Nineveh, who in truth, could not “tell their right hand from their left…” (Jonah 4: 10-11).
So after being ridiculed and whipped, Jesus, that captured man with curious words of love and deeds of compassion was crucified. And though he had preached a message of salvation, people turned on him with mockery, dubbing him “king” with a crown woven from the thickets. But he looked at them and said, “Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
And while Jesus had already warned, “The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah…” (Matt. 12:41), he who was someone greater than Jonah, would not condemn them.
And all this time we’ve been looking at him with pity.