The Gospel today tells us that Jesus spoke to the crowds. This happened after the crowd accused Jesus of casting demons by Beelzebub and asked him for a sign. In response, Jesus tells them: 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 First Reading tells us how Jonah was a sign to the people of Nineveh. He went to call the people to repentance: Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. Jonah did not even go through the entire city because he walked only for a day when the city was so large, it took three days to walk across. So even if only a third of the city heard it, they repented. The news reached the king and he called people to repentance. He issued a decree calling people and animals to fast and be covered with sackcloth and to cry to God. He called them to turn from their evil ways and from violence that is in their hands. The sign of Jonah was the call to repentance otherwise they will face destruction.
Jesus said just as Jonah was a sign to the people of Nineveh, Jesus is a sign to his people. Jesus is to be the sign of God’s call to repentance. The King of Nineveh called not only for fasting, but for a turning away from evil and from violence in their hands. Jesus in turn calls his people to turn away from evil and violence in their hands. He calls them to a repentance beyond the ritual acts, because as the Psalm tells us: For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Luke puts this episode immediately after someone in the crowd called to Jesus: Blessed is the woman who bore you and the breasts that gave you suck. To which Jesus replied: Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it. What Jesus is saying is salvation from destruction does not depend on performing rituals, nor does it depend on one’s knowledge of Scripture, and neither does it depend on one’s physical lineage. Salvation from destruction has only one criteria: to hear the Word of God and obey it.
Lent is the season for coming close to God. Jesus is the sign of Jonah, who calls for repentance. When we reject this call and continue in our thinking that our pious practices alone will save us from destruction, then we will be destroyed. We will only be saved when we hear God’s Word and keep it. Nothing else will do.
Lord, help me to hear your Word that calls me to repent. Let me turn away from my idea of how to worship you. Instead, let me hear your Word and obey you. It is not in knowledge of your Word that I am saved. It is not in pious practices that I am saved. It is not in the amount of money that I am saved. I am saved only when I hear your Word and obey it.