While still more people gathered in the crowd, Jesus said to them, “This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation.
“The queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here!
“The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!”
I am struck by the phrase Jesus uses in today’s Gospel, “an evil generation,” not indifferent, clueless, or mistaken, but evil. The converted people of Nineveh will arise and condemn the people of Israel and each of us who hear the Gospel with hardness of heart, for the Ninevites were convinced by the authenticity of Jonah’s presence and message. They asked for no sign. Was it Jonah’s words that converted them? Or was it his appearance—bedraggled from his days in the whale’s belly and on fire for the Lord? I wonder.
Sometimes we look so long and hard for signs that the search blinds us to an authentic witness. Or perhaps because we have lost our ability to recognize authentic witnesses when we encounter them, we look for and ask for signs. We cannot see the truth. We cannot hear it. We have blunted our receptors for taking in the truth. Asking for a sign is a convenient shortcut to walking the road with Jesus. Isn’t this the point Jesus makes when he tells us, “no sign will be given except the sign of Jonah”? Jesus is the “sign of Jonah”: he lived, died, and rose from the dead, his three days of entombment echoing Jonah’s time in the belly of the whale.
There is indeed something greater than Jonah here. The Lord used the reluctant prophet with the amazing story to convert an entire pagan city, but the plan for our redemption came by way of God’s own cross and Resurrection—greater stakes and greater suffering with much greater results. This is no fish tale. We must accept the “sign of Jonah.” We, too, must follow Christ through death to Resurrection