Jonah’s New Signs

From my old copy of “The Sign of Jonas” by Thomas Merton

Readings for Wednesday in the 1st Week of Lent (A2)

No sign will be given except the sign of Jonah.


Wake up this morning was to news about the Pope’s Lenten Retreat on the Holy Prophet Jonah. This story from the scriptures was, therefore, on my mind as I went to Mass. A fund thing to note (props to Fr Anthony not-on-twitter-now) Catholics don’t cite scripture, but we know the stories. So to remind us of two-thirds of the story (in outline):

  • God said, Jonah, go to Nineveh
  • Jonah said, “nope” and went the other way on a boat
  • God tried to wreck the boat in a storm
  • The sailors threw Jonah over the side
  • Swallowed by a fish
  • Fish spat him up
  • God said, Jonah, go to Nineveh
  • Jonah said, “Nope, if I go there, they will repent and you’ll forgive them”
  • God said, Right. Go to Nineveh.
  • Jonah said, “ok” and went
  • Jonah preached a little.
  • They repented.
  • God forgave them.
  • Jonah got all “DAMN IT I KNEW YOU WOULD DO THAT”

Jesus says the only thing he’ll give is the “Sign of Jonah”. Now… the Church tends to read the following text in Jesus’ voice and I will not correct that… but the Greek text has no quotation marks. Matthew and Luke have this story in slightly different versions although Jesus says “no sign except the sign of Jonah”. But then is the rest of the passage Jesus? Or Christian rabbinical conversation? It doesn’t have to be the former. It could be the latter. I want to think of it this way:

  • Rabbi Luke says Jesus means this: as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.
  • Rabbi Matthew says Jesus means that and also a prophecy of the Resurrection.

Accepting that as a given truth, are there possibly other signs for us in our present Generation? I think the answer is yes. I’m not fleshing these out but offering them as meditation points. I think there’s a lot of room for digging in:

  • Jonah tried to dodge vocation by going the other way. God fixed that: do we run away at any excuse?
  • The Ninevites only needed a tiny push to repent: is it possible that even those “heathens” you work with need only a gentle whisper of truth to breakout the sackcloth?
  • Nineveh’s conversion was so total that it made Jonah angry: we don’t want to see our opponents converted. We like hellfire from heaven better.
  • Jonah was an outsider in Nineveh yet his power was multiplied because he was following God: how many times do we go looking for someplace to “fit in” as a missionary rather than just going where God wants us?
  • Another way to think of that point: When Jonah was following God’s will it didn’t even matter that he didn’t speak the language. Everyone heard him: Jesus is also an outsider in most of our world yet this crucified criminal overthrew all of Rome and changed history.

That’s it. Some different signs to chew on. Feedback is welcomed.

Whales Tales


The Readings for Wednesday in the 1st Week of Lent (B2)

Et factum est verbum Domini ad Jonam secundo.
And the word of the Lord came to Jonas the second time.

The first words in the Book of the Prophet Jonas are “Et factum est verbum Domini ad Jonam…” and there follows two chapters of Jonas running away from God. There’s a boat. And there’s a whale of a storm. And there’s a whale, of course. Then there’s a long Lament that makes everyone so sad that the whale spits out the mournful prophet. And none of that is the point. In fact, if you get hung up in the first two chapters, debating where Jonas was in all this or where the sea was or how big was the whale, then you’re totally going to miss the point. The whale’s a red herring.

But then there is “Et factum est verbum Domini ad Jonam, secundo….  (it does the same thing in Hebrew, the same opening repeated with the addition of only one word.) This is one of the best punchlines in the Bible. 


God loves to give second chances.  In fact, the whole book of Jonas is about Second Chances. The whole city of Nineveh gets a second chance. And Jonas does too. 


Almost, when Jesus talks about the Sign of Jonas, I can hear him say, “This generation will be given a second chance…”

Today’s verse before the Gospel get us into the act:

Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart
for I am gracious and merciful.

So what path have you walked down that you thought was so right… but turned out being wrong. How far did you make it before turning back?