What Exactly is the Sign of Jonah?

jonah sistine chapel

Jonah by Michelangelo

 

We might ask for a sign from God. But no sign will be given to this generation, except the sign of Jonah.

Okay. But what exactly is “the sign of Jonah?” There seems to be a slight discrepancy. After all…

a. We read in Luke that the Lord says that “Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites.” As we read in the book of Jonah, the prophet went to the huge city and preached repentance for their sins.

But:

b. we read in Matthew that the Lord says that “Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.”

So is the “sign of Jonah” his preaching repentance in Nineveh? Or is it his little sojourn in his buddy the whale’s belly? Which is the sign, Lord?

Yes. The answer, as usual, is Yes. I think we touch the heart of the matter here—the matter of Lent, the matter of Christianity. The answer is Yes, when we re-phrase the question about the sign of Jonah. Namely, like this:

How are we supposed to repent? What stimulates repentance? Sometimes we repent because sin has unpleasant effects right now. For instance, dude repents of drinking too much last night, solely because he has a hangover. Or wife repents of being mean to her husband, because he won’t talk to her now.

But relying completely on this kind of stimulus for repentance exposes a soul to the gravest danger. Because the worst sins may not have unpleasant consequences in this pilgrim life. People might grow tired of Father’s tediousness during his sermons and decide to spend Sunday mornings somewhere other than church. Does this cause cold sores, or stiff knees? Does the house get struck by lightning? No, the tv works just fine. No immediate unpleasant consequences.

Charles Bosseron Chambers Sacred Heart of JesusWhat, then, can stimulate me truly to repent?

The one absolutely effective stimulus is: Contemplating Christ crucified and Christ risen.

Christ crucified and risen reveals:

  1. The extent and gravity of my sins and God’s divine love and mercy.
  2. The demands that God’s law makes on me and my ability to achieve a peaceful conscience when I put my faith in Him.

He would have had to suffer this much just for me, if I were the only sinner. And He would willingly have done so, because that’s how much He loves me. God’s justice demands nothing less than the sacrifice of the perfectly innocent Lamb. And He freely offers that sacrifice Himself, so that, when I put myself at His feet, I can rest my soul there, like a child.

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