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The Sign of Jonah

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

Jesus refers to the "sign of Jonah" in today's Gospel passage. He is taking his listeners to task for demanding a sign of him. As I have written before, there was a tradition that stated that the Messiah would reveal the place where the Ark of the Covenant had been hidden by the priests as Assyria was besieging Jerusalem. When the Jews returned from the Babylonian captivity, the location of the ark was no longer remembered by the survivors. Jesus chides them and tells them that they will only receive the sign of Jonah and the sign of the Queen of the South.

Some see in the "sign of Jonah" a reference to the fact that Jesus will be buried for three days just as Jonah lived in the belly of the whale for three days. This is a plausible explanation. However, it is also possible that Jesus is referring here to the fact that God forgave the Ninevites because of the fact that they repented after hearing Jonah preach. This would have been a sore memory for the Israelites who saw themselves as God's chosen people. When Jesus couples that image with the Queen of the South, namely the Queen of Sheba, it becomes fairly evident that Jesus is referring here to the fact that God will favor those who believe over those who are circumcised.

This quotation from Jesus is just one of many which led St. Paul to his doctrine of salvation by faith alone, a prominent theme in his Letter to the Galatians from which we are also currently reading. Belief or faith also implies repentance and conversion, both of which are characteristic of the Ninevites and the Queen of Sheba. Once again, we are reminded of the importance of faith. In this Year of Faith, proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI, such references will encourage us to foster and nourish our belief in the Risen Lord Jesus, God among us.

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