St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
Collect: Bless us, O God, in this holy season, in which our hearts seek your help and healing; and so purify us by your discipline that we may grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, "Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you." So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, "Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.
When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: "By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish."
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
When the crowds were increasing, Jesus began to say, “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!”
Expecting and demanding things from God is something I have always been troubled by. Even during Jesus’ Temptation story we looked at on Sunday, when the Tempter requested a miracle of Jesus, the Lord’s response was, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” We can sense Jesus’ frustration here, condemning those around him who were asking to see some power exerted. And Jesus refused. He did not do tricks; he was not a pet dog or a show pony.
Earlier in the chapter, verse 16 says: “Others, to test him, kept demanding from him a sign from heaven.” The word for sign here is more than a healing or a miracle like the Feeding of the 5,000. And what started this whole conversation was Jesus performing an exorcism. The word used in Luke for sign is semeion, which carries with it apocalyptic overtones. They were asking for more than an act, they were asking for proof of who he was. Mark’s version of this has another word for sign, dynameis, which would have been like the miracle he had just performed.
Those around him took for granted that they “deserved” it, and that they could “demand” it. Jesus saw through them, he saw the game they were playing. And here he brings in two historical references, and likens the faith of those around him to them. “No sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” Now Jonah warned the people of Nineveh, and all the people, from the King on down, believed the message of God as given through Jonah, and repented and were delivered. They escaped destruction by following the prophetic call to repentance.
The other reference: “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!” This is speaking of the Queen of Sheba who had heard of the Wisdom of Solomon, and decided to check things out for herself. Even this foreigner would condemn those around Jesus, for she knew wisdom when she saw it. Those around Jesus, ‘had eyes, but could not see.’
Luke’s approach was always showing Jesus welcoming to those coming in, and harsh with those on who were close to (and should be in on) the action. We see it here in the references chosen. The Ninevites were a foreign power off in the East, far from Israel, and yet heard the word of God and obeyed. The Queen was from the South, most likely current Ethiopia (or maybe southern Saudi Arabia, or both hence controlling the mouth of the Red Sea). Her fame and wealth proceeds her to this day. She heard of the wisdom and sought it, and Jesus is greater than the Wisest of All, Solomon.
May we be more like the outsider coming into the Good News. Open. Receptive. Willing to learn, and change, and grow. When we have the heart of a beginner, we see the world very differently. Think of children stopping and staring, at most anything. Their wonder and reveling is far from the jaded folks Jesus condemned that day. Lenten blessings. Amen