Wednesday in the First Week of Lent

by Elizabeth K. Hill

Psalm 51:11-18
Jonah 3:1-10
Luke 11:29-32

WE FIND, NOT SURPRISINGLY, THE THEME of repentance in all three readings. The psalm is lyrical, highly rhythmic and poetic in the King James translation, and the parallelisms in verses 11 and 12 make repentance actually an expression of desire and a reaching toward divine union. “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with thy free spirit.”

The selection from Jonah may inspire mixed feelings. Did we really expect the king and people of Nineveh to repent? The news sounds good, but in the next chapter we find the prophet angry that God had chosen to save the city. Jonah, not a very sympathetic character in this context, is rebuked, and thus ends the book. We can, to be sure, extract a sort of pop psychology moral about self-righteousness. But such platitudes are seldom rewarding, and the passage is disquieting.

Even more perplexing is the Gospel according to Luke. How can Jonah, the Queen of Sheba, and the Son of Man be “signs”? Aren’t they people? The Greek text reads “semion,” which can mean a distinguishing mark, an identification, a signal to action, even a foreshadowing of the future. Christ calls his contemporaries a “wicked” or “evil” generation, but the Greek term can also mean “oppressed.” Jonah preached repentance, and the Queen sought wisdom. “What is here,” we are told, is greater than Jonah or Solomon.

“What is here” is clearly Christ, and are we not being called to respond with that joyous and anticipatory repentance that must precede a closer relationship with God?