In today’s readings we hear from the Book of Jonah and Jesus’ reference to “the sign of Jonah.” I think we have been conditioned to think: “Jonah, three days in the belly of the whale. Jesus, three days in the tomb. Ok, the “sign of Jonah” must be Jesus’ Resurrection.” Maybe.
But Nineveh was located hundreds of miles from where the whale spewed Jonah on the beach. It is not likely that Jonah’s arrival in Nineveh was heralded by the news that he had spent three days in the belly of the whale. Yet somehow Jonah’s recalcitrant and truncated announcement, essentially, “repent or die” was heeded by everyone from King to people, even the animals.
Yet this was the very experience of Jonah in the belly of the whale. All of Chapter 2 is Jonah’s realization that he has sinned against the Lord and because of that is at the point of death. Jonah repents and is saved. He had a choice.
The city of Nineveh witnesses the unlikely prophet of Jonah walking their streets with the basic message repent or die. Concluding they are at the point of death, they repented. There were no miracles or great signs, just the prophetic word. They had a choice.
Israel witnesses the unlikely prophet from Galilee – what good ever comes from Galilee, right? They were witness to a whole host of miracles and signs, yet they resist. It is as the Gospel acclamation says: “Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart for I am gracious and merciful.” (Joel 2:12-13) And yet they resist. They want another sign. Jesus says that at this point they will get what Nineveh received, the unexpected prophet announcing repent or die. Jesus is that sign. The choice is then theirs.
This Lent we have the one sign given, Jesus the Christ. We have the Word calling us to turn to the gracious and merciful God. As always it is our choice.