Wednesday of the First Week in Lent
While still more people gathered in the crowd, Jesus said to them, “This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation.“The queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here!“The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!”
What is the “sign of Jonah” Jesus speaks of in this Gospel? It might offer an important lesson as we begin this Lenten season.
Jonah was called by God to preach to the people of Nineveh. He hated this idea because Nineveh was one of Israel’s greatest enemies—he wanted nothing to do with preaching to them! Jonah ran away in the opposite direction of Nineveh and headed by boat to Tarshish. God sent a great storm upon the ship and the men decided Jonah was to blame so they threw him overboard. As soon as they tossed Jonah in the water, the storm stopped.
God sent a whale to swallow Jonah and save him from drowning. While in the belly of the whale, Jonah prayed to God for help, repented, and praised God. For three days and three nights Jonah sat in the belly of the fish. Then, God had the whale throw up Jonah onto the dry land. God asked Jonah a second time to go to Nineveh—and he did.
Jonah preached to people in Nineveh and warned them to repent before their city was destroyed. The people believed Jonah and the power of his message for generations and turned from their wickedness.
As a child, this was an entertaining story but now as an adult, it has new meaning for me. This is a story of repentance: Jonah turns back towards God, and his preaching helps others do the same.
The “sign of Jonah” invites us to ask ourselves how might God be nudging us to change our lives. Are we running away from anything God might be asking of us? The three days in the dark and silent belly of a fish were instrumental to Jonah’s conversion—it gave him time to think and pray. Is there stillness in our lives for God to speak to us?
The “sign of Jonah” also raises the importance of reaching out to people who are not like us. Do I share hostility with anyone? Am I reluctant to reach out to certain people, perhaps because of their scorn or cynicism? These may be the very people God is calling us to save through the Jesus’ good news.
Let us take to heart the “sign of Jonah” and follow it into a thoughtful and meaningful Lent.