Lenten Meditation: The Sign of Jonah

From The Word Among Us:

No sign will be given … except the sign of Jonah. (Luke 11:29)

Jonah

Public figures tend to speak candidly in smaller, private gatherings of firm supporters. But when they are in front of larger groups, they paint with broader brushstrokes and use crowd-pleasing language. Not so with Jesus! Upon seeing a crowd swelling, he decided to challenge his audience. They were looking for a supernatural sign, but he invited them to repentance and conversion instead.

Clearly, Jesus was very generous with miracles. Over the course of his public ministry, he healed countless people, drove out demons, even brought the dead back to life. But he didn’t perform these wonders to satisfy people’s curiosity. He did it to reveal his Father’s love and power—and he did it in response to their faith. In today’s Gospel, however, Jesus could tell that the people in this crowd were in greater need of having their hearts opened, not in witnessing yet another marvel.

So Jesus told them about the citizens of Nineveh, who repented when Jonah called them to put away their sin and turn to the Lord. Even though the Ninevites were Gentiles, and even though Jonah was a reluctant prophet, the people accepted his word and offered a very impressive display of public repentance. By recalling this Old Testament story, Jesus made it clear that the most powerful “sign” he could give was not a spectacular miracle but the sign of repentance and transformed lives.

Jesus is speaking the same message to us today, and sometimes he speaks it very directly and pointedly. Don’t shy away when he does! Instead, let it move you to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Come to confession so that he can shine his light on whatever darkness is lurking in your heart. Open your heart to him, trusting that he loves you too much to let you remain in a rut. His call to repentance is not a rebuke but an invitation to companionship. It’s an invitation to a new life. You don’t really need another sign, do you? Confess your sins. Embrace his mercy. As you do, you will find more than enough signs of his presence.

“Jesus, make me into a sign that will bring people to you. I want to embrace your mercy so that other people may see you and believe.”

Jonah 3:1-10; Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 18-19

Reading this meditation, the first thing that came to mind was the similarities between Nineveh and our American culture/society today. How much more quickly could this nation be restored to greatness if each and every individual experienced their own call to self-examination and repentance? To set a higher standard for themselves, pursue their own God-given purpose and fight for our religious freedom and individual liberty?

Of course, we’re all blessed with free will, thus we can only control our own behavior — not that of others. However, setting a good example is the best way to encourage and influence the people around us to start their own self-introspection and spiritual renewal. Lent is a perfect time to make a concerted effort to put God at the center of our lives, acknowledge our sins and strive to do better, confident in Jesus’ love and mercy.

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