When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, ‘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 queen of the South will rise at the judgement with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here! The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here! ‘No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar, but on the lampstand so that those who enter may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light; but if it is not healthy, your body is full of darkness. Therefore consider whether the light in you is not darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, with no part of it in darkness, it will be as full of light as when a lamp gives you light with its rays.’
I love the story of Jonah, the hapless reluctant prophet who – via a lift from a large fish – eventually goes to Nineveh where, to his amazement and annoyance, the people respond positively to his message of judgement and are saved from disaster.
Jesus compares himself (the Son of Man) to Jonah. Why not eloquent Isaiah or brave Jeremiah? Jesus sees himself as a surprising prophet, like Jonah. Jesus does not strike a commanding figure – he is remembered principally as a beaten prisoner nailed to a cross. He writes no books (though he does on one occasion doodle in the sand) and he composes no great poetry. But over the centuries many times the population of Nineveh have responded positively to him and changed their lives (repented).
But an “evil generation” wants more than an obscure prophet from a rural backwater. Hearing the truth is not enough – it must be told with style, panache and wealth. Yet even the fabulously rich Queen of the South came to Solomon to ask questions. Why do we so lack curiosity about what is happening in the world around us and what God is saying?
Our “evil generation” has ignored the Jonahs of science who pronounced the doom of climate change and nature destruction over the past forty years. For many, it has taken children – such as Greta Thunberg and her followers – or the unshaven protestors of Extinction Rebellion to wake them up. Others still wait for the conclusive sign.
As we hesitate over the cost to us of investing ethically, changing our diet and lifestyle, the people of Nineveh and the Queen of the South rise up in judgement against us. We may still be in the dark, but we have a source of light so much greater than Jonah. Let’s open our eyes!
Lord Jesus, we don’t like being called an evil generation. But in our hearts, like the Ninevites, we recognise truth when we hear it. We don’t always ask the right questions, but in our hearts, like the Queen of the South, we know it is worth travelling far to hear the answers. We don’t like hearing words of judgement, but in our hearts, like the Ninevites, we know that we need to repent. Amen.
The Rev’d Gethin Rhys, Policy Officer, Cytun (Churches together in Wales) and member of Parkminster URC, Cardiff