The Readings for Monday of the 28th Week of Ordinary time can be found here.
In Monday's Gospel reading we find Jesus proclaiming that "This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah." These words seem to make a lot of sense to us as Christians 2000 years later looking back on these amazing and miraculous events in first century Palestine. How though would these men have reacted to hearing this statement though? First and foremost, who was Jonah and what does that have to do with them?
If we look back at the story of Jonah we see a man who was called by God. He was called to go preach to the Ninevites. Jesus just compared the men listening to Him, the ones demanding a sign to these Ninevites. Who were they? They were a despised race. The war driven enemies of the Israelites. The Assyrians. In 722 B.C. the Assyrians had completely conquered most of the Israelite people and took them captive. This led eventually to the destruction of the temple during the Babylonian captivity. Here Jesus is comparing the people standing around him to the Ninevites, the very people they would have blamed for the start of the worst time in Jewish history. The temple was everything! That was where God was, and here Solomon's temple had been completely destroyed as a result of the Ninevites.
The story of Jonah itself took place before that event. Jonah himself also didn't want to reach out to the Ninevites. They were the "Las Vegas", the Sin City of their time. The darkest of the dark. The cruelest of the cruel. They were the enemy. He would rather have seen God's justice rain down on them from on high, destroying them entirely. In the Veggi Tales version, we see Jonah sitting up on a very high place watching for this very thing to occur. They were Jonah's other, the enemy, "them." Time had not changed this and if anything, the Assyrian people were more hated by the contemporary Jew of Jesus time.
Then we have the very nature of the sign of Jonah itself. Jonah of course, we all know is the story of the man who ran from God and was swallowed by a fish for 3 nights and 3 days. Here we have Jesus telling the people around him that Jonah, who ran from God at first, when he came to do God's will was completely successful in God's endeavor. The people of Nineveh immediately repented of their sin and hard hearts, putting on sack cloth and ashes. Jesus, who came performing miracles, and from the very outset of his ministry was completely obedient to God... was watching those around him not turn their hearts.
He was both predicting his own death and resurrection, but also warning them that they were accountable for their refusal to hear his message. Here was the rub of what he said, he in effect said "Those sinners, the worst ones you can think of, the people you hate the most, your very enemies... listened to God before you will. They were the ones who came to God, and you refuse to hear me. So I will show you the same sign that God showed them, for three days and three nights I will be lost to the world. Then I shall be found again, in your presence, and my message of repentance will call out to you."
What does this all mean to us? How do we actualize this to our lives? When Jonah came to call the Ninevites to repentance, the message was "40 days more and this city will be destroyed." We have a similar call to repentance, in which we hear the "wages of sin is death." We, just like the Pharisees gathered around Jesus in the Gospel are called to repent. Our city, our earthly body, is eventually going to be destroyed. For it is appointed unto man, once to die. We all have that in common, but we all have a choice. We can continue on in our sin and not worry, refusing to hear and believe in the sign of Jesus Christ, in the resurrection that frees us from the impending death for eternity; or we can turn from our sin like the Ninevites and trust in God's promise.
Which brings us back to the First reading:
Through him we have received the grace of apostleship,
to bring about the obedience of faith,
for the sake of his name, among all the Gentiles,
among whom are you also, who are called to belong to Jesus Christ;
to all the beloved of God in Rome, called to be holy.
You are called to be Holy. You are called to belong to Jesus Christ. Do you follow Him? Or reject him? What do you choose?