The Gospel of St. Luke references both Jonah and the Queen of Sheba in the context of Jesus condemning the present generation as evil. At first glance there seems to be little connection between these two characters from the Hebrew Scriptures. However, Jesus adds their names to his condemnation in order to rub a little salt into the wound of his condemnation.
Jonah holds the position of being the only prophet in the Hebrew Scriptures who was actually successful in his mission. When he was sent to the great city of Nineveh, he resisted the Lord’s call and tried to escape. The ensuing story of his being swallowed by a whale records how Jonah came to be in Nineveh despite his reluctance. When he preaches to the Ninevites, they repent. The king of Nineveh even commands that the animals are to wear sack cloth and ashes as a sign of repentance. Of course, the fact that they repent galls Jonah because these people are not Israelites; they are Gentiles.
It is in this detail that we find a similarity with the Queen of Sheba, so taken with the reputed wisdom of King Solomon that she visits Israel and spends time with Solomon, learning of the gift of wisdom that was granted him by God. She too is a Gentile.
So when Jesus condemns the chief priests and elders, the Pharisees and scribes of Israel, he reminds them of the fact that the people of Nineveh and the Queen of Sheba would be judged more mercifully than they. To think that a Gentile would be so blessed by God would have been a real slap in the face. It makes Jesus’ insult even greater and simply fans the flames of their anger against him.
This Gospel passage reminds us that we dare not become complacent in our life of repentance. We are all sinners. No one is exempt from this designation. We all need to turn to the Lord, looking for every chance God offers us to express sorrow for our sins against God and neighbor.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator