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Other Options for the "Sign of Jonah"

Homily for 8th Mon After Pentecost 2023-07-17 Mt 16,1-6 ("Hypocrites!")


 

When young, I heard today’s saying in these words: “Red sky at night, sailors’ delight; red sky at

morn, sailors forlorn.” That’s more poetical than the RSV. Shakespeare had another rhyming version:“Red sky at night, sailors’ delight; red sky in morning, sailors take warning.” He also had a long,complicated non-rhyming version in one of his plays – I think I’ll leave it out.


It’s a weather adage, often enough true to be kept in circulation. It has something to do with the

moisture and dust in the air, letting the redder light of the sun through when it’s closer to the horizon, and since both we and Shakespeare and Jesus have all been the temperate latitudes, where weather generally comes from the west towards the east, and the night sunset is where weather comes from, and morning sunrise where it’s going away to, the saying makes sense for predicting, most of the time, whether the storms are coming or going. It’s always a good thing for us, too, if we know whether we are coming or going. (By the way, I heard tell that on Mars the sunrise and sunset usually turns the sky blue, instead of red. They blame that on the dust, too. I don’t know exactly why.)


In those days when Jesus was speaking to the Scribes and Pharisees, meteorology was simpler

than it is now. They didn’t have satellites. They didn’t have ocean buoys. They didn’t use radar, nor

infrared sensors. They didn’t have hydrometers either, nor weather balloons. Why, they didn’t even have thermometers. But they had sayings, such as they one about red skies in morning or evening, and did well enough. That part of life was simple and plain, and pretty nearly everybody could handle it.


What Jesus was pointing out was that there’s another things that should have been obvious to

them, and wasn’t. I suppose He meant this: that when you have a bunch of prophecies, and when you live in a culture where those are widely interpreted as giving the signs of the time when the great Messiah is at hand, and when you see those prophecies abundantly being fulfilled – the lame walk, the bind see, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and many people are talking about the Messiah: why, then, it’s as simple as seeing a read sky, in morning or evening, and having a pretty good idea of the weather that’s coming.


And yet the scribes and pharisees ask Him for a sign! The signs are abundant and obvious, and they ask for a sign. The only sign for them, he says, is the sign of Jonah. I fancy He meant his own crucifixion and resurrection on the third day, would be the sign of Jonah, who spent three days inside of the Big Fish, till he was spewed out to resume his divine assignment as a prophet to Nineveh. The scribes and pharisees would not receive any other sign, so that would have to do, as a sign for them. And yet, the perpetually curious side of me keeps wondering, couldn’t the sign of Jonah mean something else? Perhaps. More likely not, but perhaps. It seems that God has a way of speaking on many levels all at once, and so there’s hope for that question, but what other sign of Jonah could there possibly be? Here we enter the realm of private, personal speculation.


One sign of Jonah was meant for all the sailors on the ship: they asked what they could do to

placate the God that Jonah served, so that they could survive the storm; I don’t know whether Jonah’s reply was a serious answer, or just a way of giving up all hope, but he replied they should throw him into to sea, which they promptly did – and the storm stopped! That was a sign to them that the God Jonah served was a true and real Being, that Creator of heaven and earth who could start and stop storms! Now, Jesus stopped a storm, but the scribes and pharisees weren’t on hand to see it, so that won’t do as a sign for them.


Jonah’s entire adventure was a sign to Jonah himself; it demonstrated God’s concern even for

unbelievers, and His merciful lovingkindness even towards the unbelieving Ninevites, if only they would repent – as they did. This forgiveness by God and His mercy towards even the unbelievers who repent, is a lesson that many of the Scribes and Pharisees could stand to learn – but they were already not learning it, so that won’t do as a sign of Jonah for them, either.


Well, I guess we’ll be content with the main way of understanding the Sign of Jonah, whose many

details correspond in many ways to our Lord’s death and resurrection, those parallels being mostly a wonderful help for memory and a way to strengthen both memory and faith. And may we welcome with all our hearts those signs of God’s favor we find in our own lives, and treasure them!

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