1st Week of Lent – Wednesday
Luke 11: 29-32
It’s not uncommon in the gospels, to find the Pharisees and the people demanding a sign from Jesus. Make no mistake, they were not asking for a miracle, but a sign. A sign points to a greater reality, a reality they were not ready to accept. So let’s place reality in perspective. In Luke 11:14, Jesus healed a mute, yet some of his critics’ said that He cast out the demon through the prince of demons, Beelzebul.
Not once, but twice in the same chapter, they ask Jesus for a sign; to trap Him. So Jesus tells them that no sign will be given to them except that of Jonah. Now make no mistake, the sign of Jonah is most erroneously compared to the three days that Jonah spent in the belly of the fish vis-à-vis Jesus’ resurrection.
What is Jesus talking about then? In answer to a woman who blessed the womb that bore Him and the breasts that He suckled, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” For Jesus, the living out of the ‘Word of God’ is paramount and this ‘living out’, Jesus offers as ‘a sign’ in the narration of Jonah and the people of Nineveh.
Jonah was a reluctant prophet, who did not want the people of Nineveh to repent. Jonah knew that God would have mercy on the enemy of his people. Nineveh was an ancient city located at the mouth of the Tigris River, across the modern day city of Mosul in Iraq. At one point of time it was the capital of Assyria. It was here that the Jews were forced to live in exile, and understandably Jonah had no love for these hated evil people, or their land. It was they who had plundered and destroyed their temple in Jerusalem (325 BC), and forced them to spend half a century in exile.
Yet it is to them that Jonah is called to speak God’s call to repentance. An infuriated Jonah would rather die. In the story, he asks to be thrown into the sea and was swallowed by a big fish. The thought of preaching God’s word of repentance was unbearable; knowing that should they repent, God would pardon the people and city. Jonah is most certain of his merciful God’s forgiveness to the hated enemy of his people, who in the story, eventually repent and are saved.
However, unlike the Ninevites, many Israelites, like the ones who wished to trap Jesus, resisted His message. The Ninevites caved into the call of repentance and that too, to the voice of a reluctant prophet who did not even walk into the city centre to proclaim his prophecy of doom. This was a pagan nation, a nation who did not believe in Yahweh and yet harkened to Yahweh through the words of a smelly Israelite prophet (he was after all in the belly of a large fish for three days). There were no pyrotechnics to deliver this message of conversion; just a smelly, reluctant prophet!
Here in lies the sign. If a non-believing pagan nation, who were the enslavers of Jonah’s people could harken to the voice of Yahweh, and who from King to cattle could repent, then what was the problem with the Jews? Jesus was ‘The Word of God’ a word more powerful than the voice of wise King Solomon and yet, the Jews could not see it.
So when we do not harken to the ‘Word of God’, then even pagan nations, who choose to believe will bear down and condemn us. The ‘sign of Jonah’ is thus applicable to us all. God is constantly calling us to hear His word and repent. Think about it; the Jews never listened to the Son of God because they were so caught up with the voices in their mind and the vices in their heart. Perhaps we too, today have similar thoughts. Jesus promised He would come again, but He has not done so for 2021 years; and so we think, He will not.
But He speaks to us through His Word , through the Church, through the minister, through the Pope, through the Bishop, through the community, through the sacraments, through the poor, through believers, through an email, through a blog or SMS or whatsap or any means that He can reach out to us……. and yet we REFUSE TO LISTEN. We will not repent.
It’s a week since Ash Wednesday; it’s never too late to begin.
Fr Warner D’Souza
With inspiration from the ‘little black book’, The JBC and the Word of God.