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.

Numbers, Hosea, and the Non-Contradictory Contradiction of Sabbath Sacrifice

The Pharisees accused Christ’s disciples of breaking the Sabbath by “reaping” grain on the day of rest.

The Lord’s rebuttal makes two points. The second point follows what might at first seem like an odd, if not self-contradictory, line of reasoning. The conclusion exonerates the disciples completely. They are innocent men.

The Lord first establishes their innocence on the basis of their being hungry. According to the precedent of King David himself, hunger trumped legal considerations.

Christ could have left it at that. St. Mark, in fact, only recorded this first point which the Lord made. But Matthew gives us the second point, the one that seems so mystifying.

The Law of Moses not only allows, but in fact requires priests in the Temple to double their labor on the day of rest, since an extra sacrifice is ordered for the Sabbath.

Then Jesus cites the words of the prophet Hosea. The Lord declares that He does not desire the sacrifice of burnt offerings.

Okay.

But we can resolve this apparent contradiction by the other assertion that Christ made: “There is something greater than the Temple here.”

In the Temple, priests offered sacrifices to please God. Jews who loved God made pilgrimages to the Temple and offered animals to the priests to sacrifice. To say you are greater than the Temple is to say that you yourself constitute a pleasing offering to God.

A presumptuous thing to say? Certainly would be presumptuous for any humble sinner to say this. Would that I could claim to be a Temple where a pleasing sacrifice is offered to God! But, alas, I am selfish and disobedient, so my soul does not emit a pleasing aroma to heaven.

But the innocent Lamb, Who was never anything other than a Temple of perfect love and obedience, Who offered at every moment of His pilgrim life the sacrifice of undivided devotion: He could claim to be greater than the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Lord did not, in fact, contradict Himself in this second point. God desires mercy. Whose mercy? Well, first and foremost, His own. Mercy begins with God. He was the first to be aggrieved, so He must be the first to forgive. In fact, even before the first act of injustice, the Creator had already shown His infinite mercy by making us out of nothing for no benefit of His, but only for our benefit.

This infinite mercy of God is the perfect sacrifice of His Son. The Son offered Himself on the cross, in an odor of infinite sweetness, not for His sake, but for ours.

We sinners have no worthy sacrifice of our own to offer. We do much better to worry about begging pardon of those we have aggrieved and forgiving and forgetting the offenses we have suffered.

But that doesn’t mean that there is no more Temple, no more priests, no more holy bread, and no more Lord’s Day. No. The Temple is in heaven–and here on earth, wherever people believe in Jesus. The priests offer Christ’s Body and Blood, which is the bread by which we live forever. And the Lord’s Day is the eternal Sabbath that will never end.