Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Reflection: The Sign of Jonah

Daily Readings: Jonah 3:1–10; Luke 11:29–32
This reflections was given in the context of sung vespers, so it is shorter than what you would normally here at daily mass.


Jesus calls the crowds that surround him an evil generation. They are evil for various reasons, but foremost because they demand to see a sign from Jesus to prove His authority. At this point in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus has been in active ministry for some time healing the sick, casting out demons, even feeding thousands with a pittance—five loaves and two fishes. They demand to see a sign from Him who has given sign after sign. In this chapter, He has just cast out a demon that caused a man to be mute. Yet those Pharisees who witness the sign claim it is the work of a demon casting out another demon. How many more signs would such people need? We already know the answer. Jesus tells us later in the story of Lazarus and the rich man, where Father Abraham says to the rich man: “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”

The only sign Jesus says he will offer is the sign of Jonah. Jonah’s sign was to be swallowed up by a whale, only to emerge again three days later. And Jesus, crucified and dead, went into the belly of the Earth and emerged again three days later. Jesus will be a sign to this generation, greater than Jonah and greater than Solomon, but Jesus already knows that the hearts of the Pharisees are hardened and will not hear him. He is a sign of contradiction, and they contradict Him at every opportunity.
The people of Nineveh only needed to hear the words of Jonah to know that he spoke God’s truth, and they repented. The Queen of Sheba only had to hear Solomon’s words to know that he spoke with God’s wisdom, and she gave Solomon vast treasures. To the heart that is ready, the truth is always available, always accessible, and it calls us to return everything to the source of truth—God. These Pharisees were not ready, and their hearts were not open to the truth. They were blinded by pride to the point that they called good evil and evil good. So they rejected God incarnate and the obvious signs He gave to them.

So we find ourselves in today’s culture, where good is called evil and evil, good. Gluttony, lust, envy, and greed are celebrated in popular television, movies, and fiction. Selflessness, chastity, temperance, and true charity are derided as old fashioned. How can we hear the voice of truth in the noise of our twisted culture? And when we hear the truth, how do we recognize it for what it is? When we have been taught to value those things that pass away, how can we hear and accept the truth that leads us to what will not pass away?

We can start by paying close attention to the guide that Jesus gave us—our Mother the Church. It takes some effort these days to hear Her voice. Catholics used to grow up in somewhat self-contained communities, where a Catholic identity was encouraged and fostered, but that isn’t the case these days. We’ve spread out and mixed in, which in itself is not a bad thing. But we have also become too willing to allow ourselves to be defined by politicians, by the news media, and by popular trends. We have forgotten that the school of faith is our family, the community of saints, and that we learn virtue by studying virtuous lives. Is it any wonder that we mistake evil for good if we don’t study what is best in our Catholic tradition?

Next, we need to re-evaluate the things that we value. If we put more emphasis on what we own, what we wear, and what we eat than we do on how we treat others, we have missed the mark. We have lost track of what it means to be a Christian. We need to model our behavior on our Savior’s example. In this same gospel, He asks his disciples, “Why do you say ‘Lord, Lord,’ but not do what I say?” Why do we say “Lord, Lord,” and not follow His example?

Finally, we need to remember that nothing we have is gained solely by our own efforts. No good we do is done apart from the grace that God has given us. And no one of us is more esteemed in God’s eyes. We are all sinners and, with God’s grace, wanderers on a path seeking the truth. What we are now we see darkly, but then, face to face.
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