An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. Matthew 12:39 (NIV)
Sign Seekers – Signs Series – Part 4
“Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:38-40).
If I were Jesus, and someone asked me for a sign, I would go ALL.THE.WAY!
We’re talking transfiguration, resurrection, shape-shifting, relocating, inter-dimensional travel: the craziest, most impressive things you can think of.
But that’s not what happened. Jesus did not go all Harry Potter on his sign seeking audience. Instead, he talked about evil adulterers and Jonah and fishes bellies and days and nights and the center of the earth. (Good one, JC.)
Jesus was a Jew, and as would any good Jew, he knew Jonah’s story and what it represented. Jonah was told to do something, but didn’t want to do it, and ran in the opposite direction. But on the way, while running away, he got eaten by a whale (as you do), and after spending three days and nights inside its monstrous belly (somehow not being dissolved by enormous amounts of stomach acid, I digress…), he was spewed up onto the shore of the place he was initially told to go to.
As Richard Rohr explains in his book, “Everything Belongs” (pg 44-47), Jesus was using Jonah’s story as a metaphor for death and rebirth. Sometimes, when we don’t want to go where we're headed, it takes a death to get us there; to bring us to a place of transformation, to the shores of rebirth. While everyone wants miraculous signs and wonders and miracles to change people's minds and the ways of the world, Jesus said that it wasn’t going “up” that would do the job. We must first go down, into the belly of the whale. Or rather, we must be crucified, and spend three days and nights in the heart of the earth, before we can experience resurrection life and living.
This is what Paul meant when he said that we carry around the death and resurrection of Christ in our bodies (Phil 3:10, 2 Cor 4). It’s the sign of Jonah. The mystery of death and rebirth. A transformation so deep and miraculous that it changes the direction of our lives, even to the point of being willing to show up for the hard and difficult things: our proverbial Nineveh's.
It seems that there is no greater cauldron for change and transformation than some kind of descent into darkness, a whale's belly. Then after a time – a period of incubation – being spewed out onto new shores, like a newborn struggling from the womb (nice pic, right?). Just when we think the end has come, a new day dawns.
Whenever God told people, through the prophets or otherwise, that he was doing something new, it was always during painfully dark times. It's as if he knew (hello) that when we learn to lean into the pain, and to trust the process, that the change we seek, the sign we’re looking for, will be discovered by us. We will become it. That’s the miracle of being “born again.”
The only sign an evil and adulterous generation will get is the sign of Jonah. Because it’s the only thing that will transform us.
Written by Lizzy Milani