“the sign of Jonah”

Monday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 395
Gospel Mt 12:38-42

Again Jesus is confronted  concerning his teachings with the scribes and Pharisees asking for a sign. In asking for a sign, can you help but wonder what the tone of their voices were? What type of sign were they looking for. In old testament writings it was not uncommon for either prophets or leaders to ask YHWH for a sign so that they might be certain they were acting appropriately. When Moses addressed the Pharaoh it was through signs, they followed Moses through the desert by the sign of a cloud and pillar of fire.When the Hebrews doubted Moses, it was the sign of water from a rock that persuaded them to continue their journey. The same is true too for the manna from heaven. It would not be wrong to say that every book in the Old Testament contains a sign as an indicator of Gods approval.There also might have been a hint of sarcasm in their request, perhaps they were hoping for a magic show or some dazzling display?
Jesus gives them “the sign of Jonah” as proof of his authority and as justification of his teaching. What is this “sign of Jonah?” In the story God gives Jonah instruction to preach to Nineveh(Israel’s enemy) that they should repent and turn to YHWH. To make a short story shorter, Jonah does not want to and tries to avoid his assignment. While on the boat away from Nineveh, there is a storm which Jonah interprets as Gods wrath for all of his whining ; In fear Jonah’s boat mates toss him overboard. A WHALE swallows him (Jonah is still whining!) and after three days spits him on shore. While in Nineveh Jonah(still complaining!) begrudgingly tells that city to repent. He tells them once and probably none too loud. To Jonah’s surprise(and anger), the people of Nineveh don sackcloth and ashes, and fast as repentance to YHWH. Nineveh lives happily ever after and Jonah remains a curmudgeon. What’s the sign of Jonah? That depends on how you interpret the story.
For many later Christians this story parallels Jesus’s death and resurrection; the three days in the whale and then released.Death & Resurrection. In a great sense this is a accurate portrayal, but was it the one Jesus intended? Or was it the way these particular Scribes and Pharisees would have understand it? Probably not as those events had not yet occurred.I think the answer lies is how Jonah preached and what the outcome was. Jonah preached half heartedly and with no conviction what he was doing was right. He did not want Nineveh saved, he wanted them destroyed. It was YHWH that wanted the Ninevehite’s to repent. YHWH wanted them to convert their ways, and YHWH wanted them saved. The sign of Jonah is that no matter what Jonah (man) wants to happen (or in Jonah’s case, not happen), Gods will is done. Jesus sign of Jonah to the Scribes and Pharisees was that no matter what they did to stop Jesus, even putting him to death(three days in a whale); if Jesus was fulfilling the will of God he would be successful. If his work and his teachings were from God, there is nothing any man could do to destroy it. Jesus “sign of Jonah”  is a flourishing post Easter Christianity. .

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