Jonah and Jesus

Jonah Vomited from the Whale (Roman catacombs)

First Week of Lent, Wednesday

Jonah 3:1-10; Luke 11:29-32

As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of Man spend three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Liturgy of the Hours, First Week of Lent, Wednesday, Magnificat Antiphon

“Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”

Jonah 3:4

The mystical numbers three and forty ring throughout the season of Lent to attune our hearts and ears to our own death and resurrection in Christ.

Noah’s Flood, Jonah’s announcement to Nineveh, and Jesus’ temptation in the desert summon the span of forty days to combat the forces of evil.

Noah’s Flood, Jonah’s plunge into the sea and belly of the fish, and Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan river evoke the power of water to cleanse and purify all flesh.

All “flesh” (basar) sealed up in the ark, the prophet curled up in the “belly” and “womb” (beten) of Sheol [Jonah 2:2(3)], and the burial of Christ in the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:40) point to the recreation of all flesh.

Jonah’s prayer in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights effected his conversion and “resurrection” from the darkness of Sheol:

Out of my distress I called to the Lord,
and he answered me;
From the womb of Sheol I cried for help,
and you heard my voice.
You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the sea,
and the flood enveloped me;
All your breakers and your billows
passed over me.
Then I said, “I am banished from your sight!
How will I again look upon your holy temple?”
The waters surged around me up to my neck;
the deep enveloped me;
seaweed wrapped around my head.
I went down to the roots of the mountains;
to the land whose bars closed behind me forever,
But you brought my life up from the pit,
O Lord, my God.

When I became faint,
I remembered the Lord;
My prayer came to you
in your holy temple.
Those who worship worthless idols
abandon their hope for mercy
But I, with thankful voice,
will sacrifice to you;
What I have vowed I will pay:
deliverance is from the Lord.

Then the Lord commanded the fish to vomit Jonah upon dry land.

Jonah 2:3-11

The Hebrew word for “banished” in Jonah 2:4(5) (garash, to drive out, cast out) is the same word used in Genesis 3:24 when Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden of Eden. The first couple, like Jonah, was cast out from the presence of God. Yet both were mercifully protected by an outer shell from being engulfed by the forces of death and destruction—garments of skin and the fish.

The Assyrian city of Nineveh “took three days to walk through it” (Jonah 3:3), a parallel to the three days in the belly of the fish. On the first day of the prophet’s warning, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4), all flesh repented in sackcloth and ashes—men, women, beasts, cattle and sheep (Jonah 3:7-8).

The sign of Jonah is a sign of redemption in Jesus Christ, who transforms the city of the world to the city of the heavenly Jerusalem.

Jesus and Jonah in Forty Syllables:

Jesus was swallowed by the earth.
Out of the fish the prophet cried:
No vain idols shall I abide!
Apart from God I should have died.
Hell spewed out Christ to Heaven’s mirth.


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