Gospel and Homily Transcript
While still more people gathered in the crowd, Jesus said to them,
“This generation is an evil generation;
it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it,
except the sign of Jonah.
Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites,
so will the Son of Man be to this generation.
At the judgment
the queen of the south will rise with the men of this generation
and she will condemn them,
because she came from the ends of the earth
to hear the wisdom of Solomon,
and there is something greater than Solomon here.
At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation
and condemn it,
because at the preaching of Jonah they repented,
and there is something greater than Jonah here.”
The Sign of Jonah – Transcript
The Lectionary is put together in two different ways throughout the Liturgical Year. Sometimes the first readings are simply chronological and other times there is a specific pairing so that there is a thematic unity between the First Reading in the Gospel. That’s the case for all of the readings during Lent not necessarily at other times within the liturgical year—even though we preachers may try to find a connection—but the people that put together the lectionary specifically paired these two readings so there is this strong historical as well as thematic connection between the First Reading that we hear from the Book of Jonah and our Gospel today from Luke chapter 11. In fact Jesus explicitly refers to Jonah twice in today’s Gospel doesn’t he?
You may have noticed or heard the story recently in the news that there was a videographer who was studying a school of fish and he had his scuba gear on and he was underwater filming the school of fish and looking at their feeding habits when a big whale scooped in and started eating all of the fish in the school and because the videographer was so close he looked over and he saw that big fish so the whale literally ate the scuba diver—or closed his mouth over him—but when he tasted the rubber and the metal decided it wasn’t a tasty morsel and so spit him out.
The story in the news made explicit in the connection between Jonah and this videographer; Jonah being swallowed by the whale for three days—apparently Jonah was a little more tasty than this modern scuba diver staying in the belly of the whale for three days, the scuba diver for three minutes.
The story that we hear at the beginning of our reading today from Jonah chapter 3, begins with the sentence: “The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.” You’ll remember that Jonah was the reluctant prophet and the Lord called him to go to the people of Nineveh to call them to repentance. Jonah didn’t want to do that because the Ninevites were his political enemies and as a result of that he tried to flee the Lord, was thrown overboard, swallowed by the whale, felt sorry for himself and then eventually this reading starts up and the Lord says, ‘Look I’m calling you to go to Nineveh.’ And Jonah gets the message this time and he goes and he preaches this message of repentance.
Repentance, which literally means turn around. Change your mind. Change your attitude. Turn back toward the Lord. And the astounding thing, Jonah is surprised and shocked that the people actually listen to him. The king, and all the people—and even the animals—are called into this fast of repentance.
Notice that it’s not simply an individual conversion it’s the whole people from the king on down. Every person has to turn individually to the Lord and make that choice, but it’s a call to the people and not just to an individual. That same theme of repentance of the people is picked up in our Gospel from Luke chapter 11. Jesus condemns not just a particular person, not just a class, he says, ‘This whole generation has turned away from God.’
Then he cites two examples of repentance, the first one being the story of Jonah and the Ninevites and the second one being the Queen of Sheba who came to visit Solomon. She came from the another culture—from many miles away—to sit at the feet of Solomon and be educated by his wisdom. In both cases, Jesus says to his listening audience, ‘You have something greater than Jonah here, namely the gift that God has given through the incarnation is greater than the wisdom that was given to the prophet Jonah. The wisdom that is given in the word made flesh is greater than the wisdom that was given to Solomon. In those two instances the people heard Solomon, they heard Jonah and they repented they turned around, they changed from their evil ways and yet here I am in your midst and your continuing on without repentance.’
Well thank God that doesn’t have anything to do with us today, right? Because we as a people are God-fearing. We belong to America. Our values are solidly in line with the Gospel. You know, matter of fact basically we don’t even need Lent do we, because we’re just headed in and the Lord’s direction.
Boy do we need Lent.
Everyone of us individually as a city, as a country, as a world, we need to turn back to God. As I mentioned earlier, in both our First Reading as well as our Gospel, it’s a call to the people. All of us pray for ourselves. We pray for our families. We pray for our dear ones, but I wonder how often we lift up a call for conversion for our country, for our culture, for those who in God’s wisdom, God has ordained that all of us would be living on planet Earth at the same time. We could’ve been born earlier, we could’ve been born later, but God has ordained that you and me we’re all in this together folks. God has placed us at this time in history and God his called us to be born into this culture, into this country and the message of the Gospel is that we have an obligation to pray for one another; not just for the salvation of our own souls, not just for our families not just for our friends, we have an obligation to pray for one another. That’s the call that is given to us today.
That’s not a very American way of thinking because we’re so radically individualized. We’re focused on the power of one and there is a virtue in focusing on the power of one and what one individual can do. The call of our readings today is to call our culture to conversion; to lift up prayers for our legislators; for our city officials; for our state officials; for our government officials; for our business leaders; for our church leaders; for the person down the block; for your coworkers; for our corporate leaders. There are so many signs in our culture that we’ve turned away from God, that we’re headed in the in the wrong direction. The fact that in the State of Illinois they are ready to debate abortion legislation that would make it legal to kill a baby if there was an attempted abortion and the child is born alive. This legislation would say you can still kill that child. That’s horrendous, horrendous.
The fact that we’re focusing our debate on walls of the border and we’re not lifting up a debate as to what are the root causes of why so many people are trying to come into this country. This is a serious sign of the hardness of our hearts. The fact that our Democrats and our Republicans can’t seem to agree on anything, is a sign of the hardness of our hearts. The fact that so many of our young people today are no longer coming to church, have given up on the Catholic Church. The scandals that have rocked our church. There are so many signs in our culture that we as a people, rather than simply arguing about who’s right and wrong, need to repent.
Notice that the king of Nineveh, in his repentance, sat down in sackcloth and ashes and proclaimed the fast. He didn’t say, ‘These people are wrong, these people are wrong, these people are wrong.’ They said, ‘We are wrong. We need to turn back to God.’ My sense is that all of us have some aspect of the truth. If I were to sit down with you and have a conversation about what’s wrong in American culture, every one of us would have our own little slice of the pie and we would all see some aspect of our culture where we’re headed off in the wrong direction, but none of us see all of it.
Our bishops of said over and over again that it’s not the Democrats who have the Gospel and it’s not the Republicans who have the Gospel, each party sees part of the truth and is totally blind to another aspect of the Gospel and that’s not just true of the political parties that’s true of us as individuals.
Our prayer is not simply prayer for the sake of prayer. Our fasting is not fasting for the sake of fasting. Our alms giving is not almsgiving for the sake of almsgiving. It’s meant to change our hearts. These very traditional disciplines help us to turn around and see things as God sees them.
A closing image. Jesus has said, ‘Why do you see the splinter in your brother or sister’s eye and you can’t see the plank in your own?’
That’s us we. We see what’s wrong with everyone else yet it’s so hard see it for ourselves. Myself included. I’m not exempting myself in this regard. We need the season of repentance. We need to have the blinders dropped from our eyes. We need to have the hardness of our hearts melted and the traditional disciplines of prayer, fasting, and care for the poor worked in the time of Jonah, they worked in the time of Solomon, they worked in the time of Jesus. Let’s pray they can work in our time as well. Amen? Amen.