“This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah” (Lk 11:29b). We ought to remember this word of Jesus if we are ever tempted to “exegete away” the edge of Old Testament scriptures because of their supposed implausibility (Jonah’s three days in a fish!) or because we think that they have been superseded in some way by “more enlightened world-views.” A glib dismissal of key Old Testament scriptures fails to honor how God works through Israel and borders on Marcionism. This was obviously not the relationship that Jesus had to the Old Testament scriptures, which were, of course, His scriptures. What is more: when “this generation” looks for a sign, he refuses to give it a sign besides the scriptures that it already has. It is through the sign of Jonah indicated by these very scriptures that the “sign” of Jesus’ three day descent into Hell will be intelligible (cf. Lk 11:30). Nor do these scriptures stand merely as a sort of code book to interpret the signs of the times. Rather, Jesus has a living relationship with these scriptures and the persons and realities that they indicate, which are not merely past events, but present realities. Indeed, these present realities have future effect, for the queen of the south, who sought out Solomon for his wisdom, will judge those who now, in Jesus, have something greater than Solomon, but neither seek it out nor receive it (Lk 11:31). Likewise, the inhabitants of Nineveh, who repented through forty days of fasting after hearing Jonah’s warnings, will judge those who did nothing upon hearing Jesus’ word, for in Jesus, something greater than Jonah is present here (Lk 11:32).
For those who seek to pray with scripture as Ignatius does, Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel ought to stand as an invitation and admonition to us to receive the gift of the Word that has been given and to ask for the grace to enter ever more deeply into it, for what is given to us is no mere concept or story, but the reality of God’s life with us and the communion of those who have responded to his call. May we have the grace not to be deaf to the “something greater” that God offers us, but ever prompt and diligent in responding to His call (cf. SpEx 91).