In today’s Gospel the Lord says, This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah (Lk 11:30). So what is the sign of Jonah and does it apply today?
The Gospels really present two signs of Jonah only one of which concerns us here.
- First Sign: In the Gospel of Matthew’s version of this pericope, Jesus invokes Jonah in a two-fold way: For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matt 12:40). Hence in this image Jonah’s descent into the belly of the whale is a sign of the Lord’s descent to Sheol. I would like to set aside any consideration of this sign for the sake of some brevity and go on to discuss the second sign of Jonah that Matthew’s version sets forth is a way that is essentially the same as the Lucan version we heard today at Mass.
- Second sign: In Lucan version read at today’s mass the mention of the whale is omitted and only this second sign is declared: This generation is an evil generation;
it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah. Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. At the judgment the queen of the south will rise with the men of this generation and she will condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and there is something greater than Solomon here. At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because at the preaching of Jonah they repented, and there is something greater than Jonah here. (Luke 11:29-32)
But the question remains, what is the sign of Jonah?At one level the text seems to spell it out rather clearly. Jonah had gone to the Ninevites with the message Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed(Jonah 3:3). But the Ninevites, led by their King repented, fasted and prayed and God turned back his intent to destroy them. So at the plainest level the sign of Jonah is “Repent or Die.” Just as the Ninevites heard Jonah’s warning, put faith in it and lived so the people of Jesus’ time should hear Jesus’ warning to repent and believe the Good News, they should put faith in his words and live. If they do not they will meet great punishment.
But I want to suggest to you another level of what is meant by the sign of Jonah. I say, “suggest” because the reading of Scripture permits different interpretations, some of them certain, others more propositional. This description of the sign of Jonah I have read from several sources and it taps into the historical context of Jonah’s ministry and then proposes that the Lord is also speaking a deeper more polemical level when he invokes the “Sign of Jonah.” Here are the basic elements.
- When Jonah was told to go to Ninevah he resisted. He must have figured it was a no-win situation. Either they would rebuff his prophecy and likely kill him or they would heed his message and grow stronger. Now Ninevah was the capital of Assyria, the mortal enemy of Israel and Jonah had no interest in seeing them strengthened. For if they grew in strength through repentance they would surely gain the capacity to over-run Israel.
- This in fact takes place. Jonah makes his proclamation of destruction within forty days and Assyria does repent. An in their strength they would become a rod in God’s hand to punish Israel. Isaiah the Prophet had well described Israel’s crimes and that punishment would surely come upon her from Assyria. God would use Assyria to humble and punish his people, Israel. Here is a key passage wherein Assyria is described as a rod in God’s hand to punish Israel: …Assyria, the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath! I send him against a godless nation (Israel), I dispatch him against a people who anger me, to seize loot and snatch plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets. (Isaiah 10:5-6)
Here then is a deeper meaning of the Sign of the Prophet Jonah: That if Israel will not repent, God will take the power and strength from them and give it to a foreign land that knows him not. They will shame and humiliate Israel inflicting God’s punishment. This is humiliating on two levels. First of all Israel, God’s own people would not repent but a pagan country would. Secondly they are humiliated by being conquered by a foreign and pagan people. The destruction by Assyria was a devastating blow to the Northern Kingdom of Israel and resulted in the loss of the Ten Tribes living there. They became the “Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.” Only Judah and the Levites were left in the South as a remnant.
Let’s apply this understanding of the Sign of Jonah to Jesus time and then our own.
- In Jesus’ time the Sign of Jonah means that if Israel will not repent and accept the Gospel, God will take it from them and given it to the Gentiles. Jesus says elsewhere to his fellow Jews: Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. (Matt 21:43). Further, just as Israel’s ancient refusal to repent led to destruction by the Assyrians, so now Israel’s refusal to repent in Jesus’ time means destruction by the Romans which definitively took place in 70 AD and all this was prophesied by Jesus in the Mount Olivet discourse ( Matthew 24:1 – 25:46. ; Mark 13:1-37 and Luke 21:5-36 ). Over a million Jews were lost in this horrible war according to Josephus.
- In our time I want to ask you to consider that the sign of Jonah may be active. I know that this may be controversial but it occurs to me that many Christians and Catholics in the decadent West have stopped loving life. Our birthrates have dropped dramatically and we are well below replacement level. In effect we are aborting and contracepting ourselves right out of existence. And God has loosed judgment on us in the form of the Sign of Jonah. In effect he seems to say to us, “Fine, if you do not love life, I will take it and give it to a people who do. Even if like the Assyrians of old they are not my people as you are, I will use them to humble you ad punish you. I will take the gift of life that you have cast aside and give it to the Muslim people. They will grow and increase while you age and decrease. And perhaps in your humility and when you are punished by a people who do not respect your religious liberty, perhaps then you who remain will repent and begin to love life.” Currently in France the Birthrate is 1.7 children per French woman (well below replacement level). For Muslim Women in France the birthrate is 7.1 children. Most other European countries have equally dismal rates. Do the math and realize that Europe as we have known it is coming to an end. Here in America we are boosted by Christian immigrants and are close to replacement level in this country. But generally, the Catholic world is in decline. Last year the Roman Catholic Church was replaced as the largest Faith in the world. As you surely know it was the Muslims who have replaced us. I do not argue we will be destroyed for the promise is that we will prevail (cf Mat 16:18). but we are surely being diminished by our culture of death. The Sign of Jonah? You decide.
This Video does a good job of describing the problem but it makes one strange claim that birthrates are dropping in Islamic Countries. This is surely not the case in many though, or if there is a “drop” it is from having 8 babies per marriage to 7. But the fact remains that Muslim Birthrates are VERY high in comparison to the below replacement birthrates of the Christian West.