Tag Archives: Jonah

Church Leaders

Keep Peter and the rest of the apostles in mind when thinking about church leaders. Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles  continues Peter’s  experience in Joppa, at the house of Simon the Tanner. Joppa, you recall, was the seaport where Jonah began his perilous journey into the gentile world.

Immediately after Pentecost, Peter and the others proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem, performing miracles and bravely withstanding persecution by Jewish leadership. The gospel is then proclaimed in Samaria and Galilee. Near Joppa, Peter heals Aeneas, a paralyzed man in bed for eight years and raises Tabitha from the dead. (Acts 9,31-43)

In Joppa, the tired apostle goes to sleep on the roof of Simon the Tanner’s house overlooking the vast sea where he has a disturbing vision. Instead of his usual  kosher food  a gentile banquet is poured out before him, and as a good Jew Peter pushes it away.  Three times the vision invites the puzzled apostle to eat before vanishing.

Then, messengers appear at the door from Cornelius, a gentile soldier stationed in Caesaria Maritima, the main Roman headquarters just up the coast, asking Peter to come and speak about “the things that had happened.” It’s a gentile banquet that Peter is invited to attend in his dream.

“I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but every nation is acceptable to him,” Peter says, and he goes to Caesaria to instruct and baptize Cornelius and all his household.

Did Peter truly understand where his visit to Cornelius would lead? Was the simple fisherman, who spoke Aramaic with a Galilean accent, who felt the pull of home, family and fishing boats, ever comfortable in a gentile world? Later, he traveled to Antioch in Syria and then to Rome, where he was killed in the Neronian persecution in the 60’s. Was he ever as confident in a gentile world as he was in his own? Was he ever completely comfortable at a gentile banquet?

Portraits of Peter in Rome usually portray him as a church leader firmly in charge of the church, holding the keys of authority tightly in hand. Clearly, he is a rock.

I saw another image of Peter years ago in the Cloisters Museum in New York. He’s softer, reflective, more experienced, not completely sure of himself. There’s a consciousness of failure in his face. He seems to be listening for the voice of the Shepherd, hoping to hear it.

Church leaders never fully understand the mysterious ship they’re called to steer. They have to listen for the Shepherd’s voice.

Wednesday, 1st Week of Lent: The Sign of Jonah

Jonah, Roman Catacombs

Luke 11:29-32

Jonah, starting out, doesn’t seem like much of a prophet. He’s a frightened man fleeing the task God gives him–to preach repentance to the great city of Nineveh. He thinks it can’t be done. He couldn’t stop the sailors who thought he cursed their ship from throwing him overboard. He would have been finished if the whale that swallowed him didn’t vomit him onto the shore at Nineveh.

The people of Nineveh paid attention to someone arriving like that. Someone escaped death from the belly of a whale? They listened to Jonah and begged for God’s forgiveness.

In Jesus, a greater than Jonah is here. He announced his death and then rose from the belly of the earth. That’s his great word, his message of hope, a sign of God’s love for us. That message must be proclaimed to the whole world and the world must hear it.

Paintings and sculptures of the story of Jonah like the above often appear in the early Christian catacombs of Rome. There’s Jonah thrown to the whale. On the upper right panel, Moses strikes the rock and water flows, a sign of Baptism promising life. (Note the water flows over the whale) On the panel upper left, Jesus raises Lazarus from the grave.

The story of Jonah raises our hope and nourishes our prayers. God offers us a great mission and a great vision. As it was with Jonah, we may find it beyond our minds and understanding. We are called to believe. Like Nineveh, our world is called to believe.

I believe in the sign
that lifted you up and blesses us,
the sign of your Cross.
You bring resurrection and life to the world,.
Help us believe in what is beyond anything we know..

Something Greater than Solomon and Jonah

King Solomon, Russian icon from the first quarter of the 18th century. (Iconostasis of Kizhi Monastery, Russia)

28th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday (Year II)

Luke 11:29-32 

While still more people gathered in the crowd, Jesus said to them, “This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah. Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. At the judgment the queen of the south will rise with the men of this generation and she will condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and there is something greater than Solomon here. At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because at the preaching of Jonah they repented, and there is something greater than Jonah here.”

Solomon and Jonah were larger than life legends in the Hebrew tradition. Their names and stories evoked a rich and colorful tapestry of images and associations.

Solomon’s wisdom was “as vast as the sand on the seashore” and ambassadors from every corner of the earth flocked to hear his wisdom (I Kings 5:10-14). The original Jerusalem Temple  constructed under his reign staggered the nations with its magnificent design and carvings in splendid gold, silver, bronze, stone, cedar and pine. The king’s palace, which took almost twice as long to build, bedazzled visitors with its opulence and grandeur. 

When the queen of Sheba witnessed Solomon’s great wisdom, the house he had built, the food at his table, the seating of his ministers, the attendance and dress of his waiters, his servers, and the burnt offerings he offered in the house of the Lord, it took her breath away (I Kings 10:4-5).

Like Solomon, the prophet Jonah commanded the attention of foreigners and turned them toward Israel’s God. The “fantastic repentance of the Assyrians” that included even the animals  underscored God’s great mercy and impartiality toward Jews and Gentiles alike (Jonah 3:4-10).1 The familiar story of the disobedient prophet who converted their worst enemies had an effect on the Hebrews similar to that of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. “The parable presupposes that most Jews would have regarded ‘good Samaritan’ as a contradiction in terms.”2

Solomon and Jonah had acquired mythic proportions in the Hebrew imagination. “Something greater” than the legendary king and prophet was Jesus’ way of connecting with his contemporaries and moving them toward accepting his claim of divine sonship. If a pagan queen and the idolatrous Ninevites could recognize the wisdom of the LORD, how much more should the children of Israel, Jesus lamented. 

Unlike Solomon, Jesus came as a poor and meek king “riding on an ass,” and unlike Jonah, Jesus was “obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Matthew 21:5; Philippians 2:8). The enduring impact of Christ’s love for humankind that has transformed lives and raised saints through the centuries more than testify to the historicity and reality of the one “greater than” Solomon and Jonah.


Related post: The Sign of Jonah

1 According to the Reading Guide to Jonah in The Catholic Study Bible, “The author of this passage is not concerned with historical plausibility—everyone knew that Assyria had never turned from its ‘evil way.’ The fantastic repentance of the Assyrians simply adds to the enjoyment of the tale” (RG 369).

Roland E. Murphy, O. Carm. writes:

“The interpretation of the book as history has lost ground in modern times. Were history the intention of the author one would expect names (e.g. of the king of Nineveh) and details, and there would be more concern to explain the implausibilities and the series of remarkable coincidences. The climax of these is the sudden and complete conversion of the Ninevites. There is no opposition, no motivation except Jonah’s proclamation of the threat, yet a tremendous conversion of the entire population of a large city takes place—without leaving another trace in the Bible or in history—a conversion which Israel never attained realized by the people who destroyed her. The historicity of the account has been defended primarily because of Jesus’ reference to the ‘sign of Jonah’ (Matt. 12:38-42; 16:4; Luke 11:29-32); but the story existed in the OT and this was enough basis for Jesus to refer to it. Interestingly enough, the sign itself was variously interpreted in the NT era, as a comparison of Matt. with Luke shows.”

Cited from The Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary on the Bible, edited by Charles M. Laymon (Nashville: Abingdon Press), p. 480.

2 The Catholic Study Bible, RG 369.

The Sign of Jonah

The three readings in our lectionary these last days from the Book of Jonah reveal a man who seems unchanged by the amazing things that happened to him. At first Jonah refuses God’s command to call the great city of Nineveh to repentance. He sees no sense to it. Then, thrown overboard by sailors, he’s swallowed up by a whale that deposits him on the beach at Nineveh. 

He finally preaches in the great city and it repents. But here at the end, Jonah’s angry. He doesn’t seem to appreciate what God has done. He’s still a very small-minded, unchanged man, it seems. 

Jesus uses the story of Jonah in the gospel as a sign of the power of the resurrection. The resurrection is God’s power at work. It’s not human power, God’s power is at work. God raises Jesus from the dead, but God also raises up people like Jonah, who don’t altogether grasp God’s plan, they’re not perfect, they’re weak even till the end. 

Pictures of the story of Jonah are common in the Christian catacombs in early Rome, where they’re found over the remains of someone deceased. The whole story is usually there, from Jonah getting thrown off the boat, to being swallowed up by the whale, to Jonah sitting in the shade of the vine.(see above)

The early Christians recognized the wisdom in the stories of the Jewish scriptures much more than we do today, so you wonder if they saw themselves and their loved ones who passed on in the Jonah story. 

Most of the people in the catacombs were ordinary Christians, not all heroic saints. They were conscious of their weak faith as citizens of this great city, but they also recognized the power of Jesus Christ who, in his resurrection, brought life even to those of little faith.

Jonah was their patron saint. 

You Want a Sign


    In this Wednesday’s Gospel (Lk 11: 29-32) our Lord says :

    ” This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah. Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.”

    Our Lord seems so frustrated and annoyed with the people of His time ( and I’m sure with us too!) . Like them we want easy fixes to so many sufferings, complications, and problems that plague our personal lives and our society. ” God, please manifest Your great power and heal our world!”

    Our Lord seems to imply that the solutions begin with our changes of heart, where, like the people of Nineveh, we listen to God’s word, repent, and become servants of God’s will which is always our welfare and happiness.

    But we want a ” great sign” to startle us out of our stupor. Our Lord seems to say that His own death and resurrection is that sign.

    Only 2 weeks ago we remembered the anniversary of the passing of my wonderful friend, Fr Owen Lally,CP, the leader of our prayer group. His spirit still lives in us. Our group still stands strong. Through Fr Owen’s guidance we always strove to be ” the sign of Jonah”. Fr Owen wrote:

    ” Our Resurrection with the Lord is the sign of Jonah. Our old self transformed by grace into our true self IS our resurrection. Our entire life’s journey has as it’s goal the renewal of the old man of sin into the new man of grace in Christ. Individually this is wonderful to see, but to bring several brothers and sisters into unity is the true icon of the risen Lord.

    Mutual Indwelling is the result of becoming human together. The sign of Jonah was the survival of our Lord’s being in the belly of the earth. We are in the belly of the whale by our baptism and deep immersion into the water. Whoever is in Christ is a new creation. ‘ Whenever two or three are gathered together in my name I am there.’ ‘ This is the Sign by which all shall know that I have come forth from God, that you love one another.’ The primary way to make new Christians and to get vocations is to love one another and become one in community.”

    The Passionist Community has graciously allowed our Prayer Group (Fr Owen’s Prayer Group) to meet on Sundays, after mass, at the Passionist Monastery in Jamaica, NY. Sometimes when I walk into that Monastery Chapel in the middle of our prayer meeting, I am struck by the awesome power of 30 to 40 people, who have given themselves fully to song and praise, to love and support for one another.  In this place the Spirit of the Risen Jesus is alive in all His Glory, a sign to the world that Love is supreme, that there is hope, that our Lord reigns!  In a way we feel like God’s prophets. We are compelled to walk through our own Nineveh and proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom!

Orlando M. Hernández


God sent Jonah to the “enormously big city” of Nineveh. Three days to go through it. No wonder poor Jonah headed off in the opposite direction, seeking smallness, safe and sound. But God doesn’t call us to smallness. “You kingdom come” we pray; let’s work for it.

In this holy time,

a time of grace, Lord,

awaken kingdom dreams in us,

save us from dreaming too small.

You came to Jonah a second time,


send us into Nineveh

as your presence there.

For a homily.