“I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE”: THE JOY OF SEEING JESUS
Readings: 1st- Jer. 31: 31-34; 2nd- Heb. 5: 7-9; Gospel- Jn. 12: 20-33
Let’s start our reflection today with looking at the Jesus’ hour, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (Jn.12:23). It is the hour of fulfilment of His mission. We see in today’s gospel Jesus’ use of the metaphor of “the grain of wheat” where Jesus explains the meaning of his mission; “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it produces much fruit”. The image here is that of his death and resurrection. If we take our minds back to the beginning of his mission, Jesus gives us a glimpse of this hour from the beginning. At the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee, his mother approached him with a request for the couple, “They have no wine”. To that request, Jesus responded, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come” (Jn. 2:3-4). Then, Jesus’ hour hadn’t come because he was yet to undertake the journey of the Cross. Today, he tells us that his hour has come.
Jesus uses that opportunity to give a picture of his imminent death. He is that “grain of wheat” grounded for our sake, the “grain of wheat” that must die to germinate eternal life for his people. Last Sunday, he told Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (Jn.3:14). He explains the meaning of his hour. Jesus is troubled like any other human being would, in the certainty of his death. He calls on his Father, “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.”
As human being, Jesus feels pains. He laments, cries, experiences sorrows like us. The Hebrew author describes him in the flesh, “he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears” (Heb. 5:7). But Jesus must go through this hour. It is the hour of his glory. The Father testifies by the voice from heaven. The Father glorifies the Son through suffering. That glory is for our sake, that we may be saved. So, Jesus explains that the voice from heaven is for our sake. It is the voice reminding us of God’s love for us in Christ. It is the voice confirming the mission of the suffering servant. It is the voice that echoed at baptism, “This is my beloved Son”. It is the voice sealing the “hour” when everything is consummated in his Son. It is the voice endearing us to the glory of the Cross, thus, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself” (Jn. 12:32).
The first reading draws our attention to the new covenant that God is making with his people. The prophet Jeremiah uncharacteristically, presents a “book of consolation” -God’s healing, hope and newness. God reassures the people of Israel, “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer. 31:33). The new covenant is no longer a covenant written on tablets of stone but now engraved in our hearts. It is a covenant of engagement with God in a most intimate way. It is a covenant of love. That is what Jesus does. He draws us into God’s covenant through the Cross.
To see Jesus, we must be drawn into His covenant. The Greeks (gentiles) search for Jesus. The disciples lead them to him. The Jews look for him even though some plan to kill him. In the Gospel, “Simon and his companions went to look for Him, and when they found Him, they said, “Everyone is looking for you” (Mk. 1:36-37). There is a great joy in seeing Jesus. That joy is manifested in our encounter with him in the Blessed Eucharist.
In today’s gospel, the Greeks come to receive the Holy Communion. They seem not to understand fully what it means, and they seek Philip to help them. Philip takes them through the doctrine of the sacrament of the Eucharist, presents them to Andrew. Then Andrew and Philip, together take them to Jesus. This demonstrates the sanctity which we should give the Blessed Eucharist, which is our place of encounter with Christ. The Blessed Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ, crucified for our sake. It is in the Eucharist that Christ draws everyone to himself. It is the reenactment of the sacrifice on the Cross. Christ says, “When I am lifted up, I’ll draw everyone to myself”. He is lifted on the Cross, crucified at Calvary. At Mass, the priest lifts the species of bread and wine which become the Body and Blood of Christ. It is a memorial of Christ’s death and resurrection. We are invited to see Jesus as He really is in the Blessed Eucharist.
Let me use this opportunity to communicate that the Blessed Eucharist cannot be blessed outside of the Mass. I had someone who is a catholic come to me few days ago to ask that I bless the host for the Eucharist. This is the second time I am getting that request, hence the need to clarify. Once at a different time, while I worked at Johns Hopkins Hospital, I had a non-Catholic chaplain who wanted to bless the host to give to a Catholic patient. I corrected him and instructed him that the host cannot be blessed by anyone who’s not a catholic priest. But it was more shocking to me to hear Catholics ask me to bless the host outside the Mass. Let’s know that the bread and wine changes into the Body and Blood of Christ only during the Consecration at Mass. The consecration begins with the invocation of the Holy Spirit. This is when the priest extends his hands over the bread and wine and asks God, “that they may become for us, the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ”. The priest uses the same words that Christ used at the Last Supper, and invites the people to “Take and eat… Take and drink”. It is a memory of Christ’s death and resurrection as he invites us, “Do this in memory of me”. The Blessed Eucharist is only consecrated at Mass. Christ is lifted in his Body and Blood. We watch him, encounter him, and are drawn to him for our salvation.
There’s a great joy in seeing Christ and in encountering him in the Blessed Eucharist. The Greeks say to Philip, “Sir, we will like to see Jesus”, because they recognize that He is the life of the world. Aren’t we privileged to see him ourselves and to consume him in the Blessed Eucharist? Are we eager to see him? And Christ tells us, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single grain”. Fr. Tony Adawu wrote an article in the Winter edition of the Family Apostolate Magazine titled, “We are a Consecrated and Eucharistic People”. He explained the metaphor of the grain of wheat this way: “We receive an invitation to become what we eat and what we drink. Since one piece of grain does not make bread and one fruit does not make wine, instead multiple grains and grapes do, and they do so by being ground together. In a sense then, our consecration as individuals is not complete without the consecration of the whole Body of Christ. Like Christ, each grain and grape must fall to the ground of the Altar of the Cross, so that we can be lifted up to draw all people into communion with God (cf. Jn. 12:24, 32). That’s the joy of seeing Christ; “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer. 31:33).
THE PARADOX OF THE CROSS: "FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD THAT HE GAVE HIS ONLY SON"
Readings: 1st- 2 Chr. 36:14-16, 19-23; 2nd- Eph. 2:4-10; Gospel- John 3: 14-21
John the evangelist vividly demonstrates Christ’s mission in his gospel; a mission to die for our sake. One of those passages is John Chapter 3 part of which we read in today’s gospel. Christ encounters Nicodemus and explains to him what this mission is all about; “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up…” The Son of man must be lifted up. The story of the bronze serpent reminds us of the healing granted to the Israelites by God. As the Israelites were leaving the land of Egypt, they lost patience with God and began to complain against God and Moses, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die in the desert? For there is neither food nor water here; we are sick of this meagre diet” (Num. 21: 4-5). This angered God. He sent fiery serpents which bit the people causing death to many. The people appealed to Moses for pardon and he pleaded with God on their behalf. God said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and raise it as a standard. Anyone who is bitten and looks at it will survive” (Num. 21: 8). That was how the Israelites escaped the threats of death and sin. The bronze serpent lifted up on the pole became for the Israelites a sign of God’s healing.
Jesus reminds Nicodemus that the Son of Man would also be a sign of healing to the world. It is interesting to note the difference between the healing brought by the bronze serpent in the desert and the healing brought by Christ. The serpent brought only physical healing to the people while Jesus brings healing that is eternal life. Jesus brings spiritual healing above all.
When Jesus says, “…the Son of Man must be lifted up”, he simply focuses our attention on God’s love for humanity. We are bitten by the serpent of sin and bruised by iniquity. That is what we see in the first reading. The book of Chronicles talks about man’s infidelity exhibited by the leaders and priests in the Old Testament. They mess up God’s temple. They resort to idol worship. They abandon the commandments. They reject God’s love. The people go astray and repeatedly refuse to follow the way of the Lord. They mock God’s messengers. They despise God’s warnings. They scoff the prophets. All take to their own human aggrandizement. They merit for themselves punishment and the serpent bites them as they are taken into exile in Babylon. Again, they cry out and God shows them love. As prophesied by the Jeremiah, God inspires Cyrus, the King of Persia to free the people and have them return to Jerusalem.
It is clear that God’s love overshadows our human sins and brokenness. God wants to save us. He doesn’t relent. John says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (3:16). This is one of the most popular verses in the bible. It tells us of the relationship between God and man, how God, “having loved those who were his own in the world, loved them to the end” (Jn. 13:1). God’s love is so powerful, the reason why Jesus is lifted up on the Cross.
Exegetes use the Greek word hypsothenai to translate being “lifted up”. One could imagine how Nicodemus understands the words of Jesus. Already we see his banal interpretation at the first encounter when Jesus speaks to him about being “born again from above” (cf. Jn. 3:5). In this case, he must be thinking of Jesus being physically lifted up. What could that mean for Nicodemus? But Nicodemus is not alone in his thinking. When Jesus speaks to the Jews about the same thing, he repeats the same words that he says to Nicodemus, “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all people to myself” (Jn.12:32). The Jews are confused. They answer him, “The Law has taught us that the Christ will remain forever. So how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’?” (Jn. 12:34-35). However, Nicodemus isn’t completely wrong because Jesus would be physically lifted up like the bronze serpent. He would be crucified. He and would be hanging physically on the Cross, to die a shameful death.
The second meaning of hypsothenai is that the Cross will be a sign of exaltation at the end. The Cross is a manifestation of God’s glory, majesty, and victory. Jesus is King who conquers death and sin. He says to the Jews, “When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am He” (Jn. 8:28). Jesus is the anointed Son of God whose death brought victory to mankind. Saint Paul acknowledges the victory of the Cross when he writes, “For this God raised him high and gave him the name which is above all other names; so that all beings in the heavens,on earth and in the underworld, should bend the knees at the name of Jesus” (Phil. 2:9-10).
The last meaning of hypsothenai is seen in its effects in our lives. It pulls us into the relationship with Christ and with the Cross, “Whoever believes in him will not be condemned”. God’s will for us is to “be saved and reach the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). The Cross draws us to Jesus as the Sign of our salvation. Jesus is the light that has come into the world; in him we have light. Scripture says today, “Whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God” (Jn. 3:21). Jesus does not want darkness to overtake us. He reminds us, “The light will be with you only a little longer now. Go on your way while you have the light, or darkness will overtake you, and nobody who walks in the dark knows where he is going” (Jn. 12: 36).
The paradox of the cross is that it has become the sign of God’s love for us. Prior to Christ’s crucifixion, the cross is associated with shame and punishment. Through the Cross God demonstrates his richness in mercy, and that he loves us to the end. We are God’s “handiwork”. We belong to his plan of salvation. By his grace we live, the grace brought to us by Christ’s death on the Cross. Lent is the time to remind ourselves of the impact of God’s love, “the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7). It is a time to remain constantly in God’s light. It is a time to embrace the Cross as a sign of strength over sin and darkness. Always remember how strong God’s love is for you. It is the love that is manifested in the Cross. Christ is lifted up for you so that you may be lifted up above human weakness, pain, suffering and failure. May his grace and mercy be with you. Amen.
“WE PROCLAIM CHRIST CRUCIFIED”
Readings: 1st- Ex. 20:1-17; 2nd- 1 Cor. 1:22-25; Gospel- John 2:13-25
Saint Paul makes it clear in the second reading of today that Christ’s crucifixion remains the greatest sign of all ages. The scandal of the Cross is that Jesus saved humanity through his death, what in the Old Testament (Deut. 21:23) was considered shameful, becomes the means of our salvation. What appears as foolishness from the human perspective becomes in reality the wisdom of God; what seems like weakness in the sight of man becomes indeed the manifestation of God’s strength and power; “We proclaim Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23).
The first reading reminds us of the ten commandments. God gives the commandments to the Israelites as the sign of God’s relationship with his people. God delivered the commandments to Israel as a sign of his love for his people. He says, “I, the Lord, am your God”. God enters into a covenant relationship with his chosen ones. This relationship is manifested in the establishment of divine instructions which God’s people must follow. The commandments are not just about consequences that will fall on the people if they fail to obey the Law, rather they reflect more of God’s personal identity: He is the God who loves us as His own.
There are two aspects of the commandments: First part expresses the relationship between God and his people. Absolute fidelity to God is seen as the target of the first three commandments: “You shall not have any other gods besides me. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day” (Ex. 20:1-11). God wants us to commit to him. He wants us to recognize his absolute power, to serve him, worship him and love him above all else. Worshipping God means understanding that he is there for us always. It means respecting him and keeping everything about him in reverence. We need to evaluate our attitude towards God, towards the use of God’s name and towards the holy spaces of worship dedicated to him. Do we need to improve on our manner of speaking about God? How many times do we use God’s name to curse others?
In the second part, God commands us to recognize the bond of love among our fellow human beings. He invites us to honor our parents. Honoring our father and mother is the only commandment with a promise. God says, “Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a long life in the land which the Lord your God is giving you”. It is also the commandment that demands action in the second part of the division. Others (the fifth commandment through to the tenth) command refrain. They are mostly about the things we should not do: to refrain from being hurtful and hateful to others such as killing, adultery, stealing, bearing false witness and desiring/coveting people’s properties and wives. The commandments have not changed, and will not change. They originate from the nature of God who himself is the same always.
In the gospel, we read about those buying and selling oxen, sheep, and doves as well as the money changers in the temple. Christ is mad at such abuse of the holy place. He is upset and makes a whip for them. He throws away their goods and challenges them; “stop making my Father’s house a marketplace”. This argument leads to another important revelation about his mission. The Jews seek to know what sign Christ can show by calling the temple his “Father’s house”. Jesus responds, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn. 2:20). That sounds like one of those insults in their ears. Each time the Jews request for a sign from Jesus, he confuses and infuriates them. For example, when he is teaching about what they must do to carry out God’s work, they ask him, “What sign will you yourself do, the sight of which will make us believe in you? Jesus uses the moment to teach them about the Blessed Eucharist, about his body and blood being food and drink for those who receive it, “I am the bread of life. No one who comes to me will ever hunger; no one who comes to me will ever thirst” (Jn. 6:30-36). The Jews fail to understand him.
In today’s gospel, the Jews again ask him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?”. Jesus’ use of the temple is paradoxical, but to them it’s senseless. He sounds foolish, and they consider themselves wise. They have labored to build the temple for forty-six years, and here he is telling them that he will build it up in just three days. That doesn’t make sense. How can he single-handedly build the temple in three days? That’s what human wisdom thinks. However, God’s wisdom looks beyond the physical things to the spiritual. In Saint Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we read, “Do you not realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in you and whom you received from God?” (6:19-20). Christ says to the Jews today, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up”. Scripture informs us that Christ “was speaking about the temple of his body”. Respecting the temple that is Christ’s body and blood is what God requires of us in the commandment; “I am the Lord your God, you shall not have any other God but me”.
The events of the gospel remind us of the respect we owe to God. We must keep God’s temple holy. Let me say this. Few days ago, someone went into the small chapel at the Parish Center, opened the tabernacle and messed around with the Blessed Eucharist. The individual tossed pieces of the consecrated host all over the place. We suspect that might have been a kid. But the question I ask is whether the parents of that kid didn’t know or see what damage that kid did. That’s desecrating the Body of Christ. That’s a great sin. And no one reported the matter until we saw it. That individual walked away thinking that no one saw him/her. That’s sad and unfortunate. Christ is being constantly crucified by us in different ways. Each time we disrespect the Blessed Sacrament, we crucify him again. It is the same God who has invited us into his love in the commandments. He is the sign for those who believe. Let us note that the “foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (1 Cor. 1:25). Destroying anything that belongs to Christ is destroying God’s temple. God wants us to respect the temple that is Christ’s body.
Remember this saying today; “I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you out of the land of slavery” (Ex. 20:1). He is the Lord who brought you out of sickness and pains. He is the Lord who delivered you from danger. He is the Lord who gives you life, food, wealth. He is the Lord who gives you family-wife, husband, children; the Lord who cares for you. He wants you to treat him right. Treat God with love and respect. That’s the meaning of the commandments.
ABRAHAM’S FAITH AND OUR TEST
Readings: 1st- Gen. 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; 2nd- Rom. 8:31-34; Gospel- Mk. 9:2-10
Saint Paul asks, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31). That sounds rhetorical. Paul is reminding us of God’s steadfastness. We often find ourselves at crossroads, and the question becomes whether God is still for us at those moments. It’s always a dilemma. Maybe, we can put the question in another way, “Where is God when I suffer?” “Why does he let me suffer?” Or, as in the first reading, “Is God the one testing me?” Saint Paul stretches it further, “He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not give us everything else along with him?” (Rom.8:32). God would give us everything along with Christ. Giving us everything means a lot. It can be seen as giving us everything that we need. It can be seen as God letting us experience everything as Christ did, including suffering. It can also be seen as giving us Christ which is everything we need, God’s beloved Son.
Abraham’s trial and faith are placed side by side in the first reading. The invitation to go to the land of Moriah to sacrifice his only son follows a pattern that Abraham exhibits regularly in his relationship with God. The land of Moriah is unknown to Abraham. In this case, it signifies a leap of faith. The beginning of his journey was the same; “God said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your kindred and your father’s house for a country I shall show you; and I shall make you a great nation” (Gen.12:1-2). Abraham does not doubt God; he obeys God’s invitation and moves. It is important to see the relationship between this journey and the call to go to sacrifice his son in today’s reading. In the course of his journey, Abraham asks God, “What use are your gifts, as I am going on my way childless?” God’s response to him is, “...no, your heir will be the issue of your own body”. Then God takes him outside and says to him, “Look up at the sky and count the stars if you can. Just so I will make your descendants be” (Gen. 15:2-6). So, it’s clear in today’s reading what God is asking of Abraham, “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust…” (Gen. 22:2). The promise of making his descendant as numerous as the stars is yet unfulfilled, then he is asked to sacrifice his “only, beloved son”. That’s a hard demand.
This passage reminds me of the recent suggestion made by Pope Francis about the line in the Lord’s Prayer that says, “And lead us not into temptation”. The pope remarked that “the French have changed the text and their translation says, “don't let me fall into temptation,” . . . It's me who falls. It's not Him who pushes me into temptation, as if I fell. A father doesn't do that. A father helps you to get up right away. The one who leads into temptation is Satan”. But scripture says today, “God put Abraham to the test” (Gen. 22:1). There is also the debate about the temptations of Job and God’s place in the whole story. We read in the book of Job, “Very well, God said to Satan, all he (Job) has is in your power. But keep your hands off his person. So, Satan left the presence of the Lord” (Job 1: 12). Who is really tempting, God or Satan?
We can look at temptation in two ways: temptation to sin, and temptation as the test of faith. Saint James writes, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (Jas. 1:13-14). This is the temptation to sin. In the case of Job, we notice that God does not abandon Job even though he allows the devil to tempt him to see if Job would sin. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains the “Lead us not into temptation” line this way, “This petition goes to the root of the preceding one, for our sins result from our consenting to temptation; we therefore ask our Father not to “lead” us into temptation. It is difficult to translate the Greek verb used by a single English word: the Greek means both “do not allow us to enter into temptation” and “do not let us yield to temptation” (CCC 2846). Primarily, God protects us from sinning and cannot lead us into sin. It supports Saint Paul’s statement, “If God be for us, who can be against us”.
However, the test of faith is what we see in the case of Abraham. That God tests Abraham means that he stretches him; he tries Abraham’s faith. God wants to prove to Abraham that he is still God, faithful and steadfast. He’s the God who calls him into service. This is seen in the climax and anti-climax of the story. As soon as he takes his knife to slay Isaac, the Lord’s messenger calls from heaven, “Abraham, Abraham! Do not lay your hand on the boy. Do not do the least thing to him. I know now how devoted you are to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son” (Gen. 22:12). Think about what would be happening at this moment- Abraham’s reaction vs Isaac’s expression. Shock, surprise, relief, satisfaction, fulfilment, maybe anger and disappointment! Every emotion could be found in this moment. Then the Lord provides a ram to replace Isaac. Abraham still performs the sacrifice.
This connects with the transfiguration incident in the gospel. The moment in the life of Christ when he reveals his mission and identity. He takes his closest disciples- Peter, James and John to the mountain. He plans to give them a different understanding from the others. Jesus “charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead” (Mk. 9:10). The appearance of Moses and Elijah also explain the connection between the Law and the Prophets; Jesus is the fulfillment, and the transformation of the Law and the Prophets.
God tells Abraham, “Take your son, your only one, your beloved Isaac”. The voice comes from heaven at the transfiguration, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him”. Eventually, God gives us his only Son to be sacrificed for our sins. That’s what Saint Paul refers to in the second reading, that God does not spare his only Son. By the death of Christ, God has acquitted us from the deadly effects of sin. We must prove our faith by listening to God. Abraham listens to God’s voice and expresses his faith. As Christians, we must be ready to face temptations too. Sufferings, pains, disappointments, frustrations, failures, losses, griefs, are all realities of life. They occur at different places and at different stages in life. They occur to us as students, in search of relationships, as business men/women, employees, etc. They occur to us in marriage, in the priestly and religious vocations. They occur to us in the single life. They occur everywhere. No one is exempt from the test of faith. God is not absent at those critical moments. He is watching. He is waiting for the right time. He wants to test your faith. At the end, like he provided the ram for Abraham, God will always provide a rescue.
God intervenes at the appropriate time. He blesses those who stand firm in trials, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you acted as you did… I will shower blessings upon you…” (Gen. 22:15-16). May God strengthen and bless you as you go through the trials in life.
GOD’S COVENANT OF LOVE
Readings: 1st- Gen. 9:8-15; 2nd- 1 Pet. 3:18-22; Gospel- Mark 1: 12-15
The story of the rainbow is quite a popular one in the Scripture, the sign of God’s covenant with Noah after the deluge. It is a sign of the covenant which expresses God’s love not only for Noah but for his entire creation. For God said, “See, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you” (Gen. 9:9-10). And that sign is to remain forever, “This is the sign that I am giving for all ages to come”. Through the rainbow sign, the bible presents us with the theology of God’s mercy for his people.
In the New Testament, Christ becomes the definitive revelation of God’s covenant with humanity. In the second reading, Peter chronicles the sufferings through which the humankind is saved. Christ the righteous one, suffered for the unrighteous. We enter into the covenant relationship with God at baptism. We reenact the saving miracles through the waters at the time of Noah. The Church is Noah’s ark in our time. It is the ark that brings us into the covenantal relationship with God. It is the ark in which we are saved from the toxic waters in the world. At baptism, we are signed for the first time with the sign of salvation in Christ Jesus. We are signed into God’s covenant of love.
The gospel presents us with the temptation story of Jesus according to Mark even though Mark’s version is the most abridged. It doesn’t describe the detailed encounter like Matthew and Luke whereby the devil takes Jesus through the various stages of material and physical attractions. But we notice that Jesus prepared himself to withstand the onslaught of the devil by the powers of the Holy Spirit. “He remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan, and was among wild beasts” (Mk. 1:13). That explains his suffering and mission. However, as he begins his public ministry of preaching, he declares God’s intention to bring everyone into the covenant; “Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand”.
Christ is the fulfillment of God’s sign of redemption promised to the Israelites in Old Testament. He is God’s sign of salvation, the beauty of the rainbow transformed into the saving mission and beauty of the Cross. The Jews came to him to ask for a sign. “The crowds got even bigger and he addressed them, 'This is an evil generation; it is asking for a sign. The only sign it will be given is the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of man be a sign to this generation” (Lk.11:29-30). What was Jonah to Nineveh? We read that the word of God was addressed to Jonah thus, “'Up!' he said, 'Go to Nineveh, the great city, and proclaim to them that their wickedness has forced itself upon me” (Jon. 1:2). Jonah went to preach to Nineveh. It is interesting to notice the resemblance between Jonah’s mission and what the gospel says today: “Jonah began by going a day's journey into the city and then proclaimed, 'Only forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jon.3:4).
First, we notice the great significance of the number forty. Jonah emphasized that the people of Nineveh repent or in forty days be destroyed. Jesus remained in the desert for forty days where he battled with Satan. Second, Jonah set out to preach to the people of Nineveh. Jesus came into Galilee where he began his proclamation. Third, the content of Jonah’s message was similar to the message of Jesus; “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mk.1:15). Jonah’s message to the people of Nineveh was to repent and be saved.
Now to understand Jesus as the great Sign, we have to go back to that encounter with the Jews to see his reference of Jonah. Matthew gives a detailed account of this. Thus, “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees spoke up. 'Master,' they said, 'we should like to see a sign from you.' He replied, 'It is an evil and unfaithful generation that asks for a sign! The only sign it will be given is the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah remained in the belly of the sea-monster for three days and three nights, so will the Son of man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. On Judgement Day the men of Nineveh will appear against this generation and they will be its condemnation, because when Jonah preached they repented; and look, there is something greater than Jonah here” (Matt. 12:38-40).
Hence, the resemblance between Jesus and Jonah is not just in preaching the gospel but also in his mission. Jonah’s was the mission of repentance. Jesus’s mission is greater than Jonah’s. Jonah was only on the mission to preach. Jesus’ mission was to save. Jonah stayed three days in the belly. Jesus died for his mission. Jesus stayed in the tomb for three days in order to save the whole world. He is that Sign that is greater than Jonah.
In looking at today’s readings, we recognize the role of the sign of the rainbow as the covenant which God initiated. That covenant is made manifest in Christ. Today, we are invited into God’s covenant of love. We have been signed with the greatest Sign of the Cross as members of this covenant. God wants us to be saved. To be saved, we have to repent. We have to honor God’s word like Noah and his team. The church is the ark that connects us with Christ. The church gives us the sacraments to be nourished and to be continually fed. She invites us to the renewal of our baptismal cleansing and promises. Christ is God’s covenant of love for us. Let us listen to his voice to repent and believe in the gospel.