Tuesday, March 7, 2017

THE SIGN OF JONAH


March 8th, 2017: Jonah 3:1-10; Luke 11:29-32.

          “The word of God came to Jonah a second time,” our first reading began. The first time God had spoken to Jonah, he told him to go the Gentile city Nineveh to preach repentance to its citizens, Jonah not only refused. He took a ship going in the opposite direction from Nineveh. When the ship got into a terrible storm, the crew thought God had sent the storm to punish Jonah for his disobedience. So they threw poor Jonah overboard. He was saved in the belly of what the Bible calls “a great fish” – who after three days vomited Jonah up on land. It was at this point that the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time – and with the same command. Jonah had refused God’s command the first time, because he didn’t want Gentile outsiders to experience the love and mercy of Israel’s God. That was for Jews only, Jonah thought.

Now Jonah, though still resentful, goes to Nineveh, preaches repentance, and the people immediately obey! Whereupon Jonah is angry. ‘That’s just what I told you would happen,’ he complains to God. ‘That’s why I didn’t want to come here. Now I’d rather die.’ Jonah is the quintessential sorehead.

In the gospel Jesus reminds his fellow Jews of this old story about the sorehead Jonah, and tells those who have been demanding a “sign” before they will believe in him – some miracle so dramatic they it will compel belief – that the only sign they will get is the sign of Jonah. At his preaching the Gentile Ninevites, who didn’t have the Ten Commandments and all the other blessings that God had showered on Jonah’s people down through the ages, believed at once, without demanding a sign, repented, and received God’s merciful love.

Lent challenges us, as Jesus challenged his own people. Is our belief in him strong enough to make us willing to change in areas where he wants us to change? I’ll be on retreat in a couple of weeks. In preparation I have been praying that during the retreat that the Lord will show me the areas in my life which need to change, so that I may be more pleasing to Him, and more useful to the people whom the Church ordained me to serve.

Perhaps you’d like to offer a similar prayer for yourself.