SIGN(S) OF JONAH
Gospel, Daily Office Readings, 15 November 2007
Matthew 16:1-12 (NRSV)
1 The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test Jesus they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. 2 He answered them, "When it is evening, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.' 3 And in the morning, 'It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.' You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4 An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah." Then he left them and went away.
Having been a little kid at the beach, I have a very early memory of the folk-wisdom: "Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning. Red sky at night, sailor's delight." When I lived in the mountains of Pennsylvania, I learned that if the air had a nip to it and the clouds were dark and flat on the bottom, we were in for snow. And I have learned here in NC that if we have fog on a summer morning, even if the weatherman chants his daily mantra, "Chance of afternoon and evening thundershowers," we're not going to get them, not that day. So, I get Jesus' point: Read the signs, and not just the weather signs, God's signs.
And Jesus names one of God's signs as the "Sign of Jonah." Well, the big-fish story prevails, so the most-readily named sign of Jonah is that he was in the belly of the fish for three days and came forth, just as Jesus would be in the tomb three days and be resurrected. But for me, Jonah has another sign: the useful if grumpy prophet. He's grumpy a lot. He doesn't want to go to Nineveh; grumble, grumble, run away. He doesn't like it that the Ninevites repented (because of his own preaching, mind you); grumble, grumble, go sit out in the sun. Then God causes a vine to grow, and it provides him shade, but then the worm eats it, and it withers, and he's exposed to the sun again; grumble, grumble, gripe and complain. (To the pessimist, the Sign of Jonah is that there's always a worm in everything. Anybody we know?) But back to Jonah, the Grumpy Prophet: even a grumpy prophet is useful in prompting Nineveh's forgiveness. I guess we get to choose which Sign of Jonah we'll live by: the Sign of the Big Fish, the Sign of Jonah's Worm, or the Sign of the Grumpy Prophet. To me, the Sign of the Grumpy Prophet is a lot more pertinent to my spirituality, at least for now.