“When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.
Reflection: The Sign of Jonah and The Cross
By John Tillman
If Jesus had a website “Can you show us a sign from Heaven?” would be listed in his FAQs.
In today’s reading, Jesus references the “Sign of Jonah” and walks away without any explanation. Earlier in Matthew, he clearly connected the Sign of Jonah to his death, burial, and resurrection. Mark, when relating a similar demand that was answered in a similar way, gives the intimate detail that Jesus “sighed deeply” before answering this repetitive query. (What a very human moment this is—showing us that there is no frustration that our savior did not fully enter into and experience.)
Jonah’s emotional path is like a photo negative of Christ’s. Jonah went to Nineveh unwillingly. It was not because he was afraid for his life, as many prophets were. He did not want to save the Ninevites because they were dangerous enemies of Israel. He was willing to die to save the idol-worshiping sailors in the boat, but when Nineveh repented and wasn’t destroyed, Jonah pouted like a child for the destruction of his enemies.
Jesus is, indeed, “greater than Jonah,” as he claims in Matthew 12. Their similarities begin and end with the time spent in the belly of the fish and in the grave.
Jesus left Heaven, setting aside his glory willingly. Jesus’ desire was consistently to seek and save the outcast and the lost. He demonstrated his love for sinners because he was willing to die for us. When the unrepentant beat, stripped, and crucified Christ, he cried to his Father for the forgiveness of his tormentors.
The signs of scripture, like the signs of the sky Jesus references, are clear and we can read them. Like the religious leaders, who privately acknowledged Christ’s miracles, we fail to follow Christ not because we can’t read the signs but because we doubt what they say.
We question. We qualify. We delay.
Jesus tires. He sighs. He weeps.
Jesus, in frustration, “walked away” from the religious leaders. But that is only because they didn’t go with him. When Jesus walks away from us, it isn’t to abandon us. He intends us to follow him. One of the key differences between the religious leaders and the disciples is that the disciples took their questions and doubts with them, following Jesus anyway.
We can bring our doubts, but we must be willing to take up our cross. There is no other way to follow him.
Prayer: A Reading
Jesus said to us: “In truth I tell you, anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” — Luke 18.17
– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.
Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.
Genesis 17 (Listen – 4:02)
Matthew 16 (Listen – 3:43)
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Read more about Two Ways to be Religious
The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. — Søren Kierkegaard
Read more about Recalling the Failures
Christ’s message of reinstatement is for all of us. He doesn’t see our failures as the world sees them. Christ sees more failure in us than even we know, yet he re-calls us—he calls us to himself again, and again, and again. Christ re-calls the failures.