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The story of Jonah the prophet, is a fascinating caricature of a narrow minded person who wants God to bestow his benevolence only on his people – the people of Israel, whereas God is presented in this narration as concerned with and merciful to even the inhabitants of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire which subdued the Northern Kingdom of Israel and devastated Jerusalem in 701 BC.

God commands Prophet Jonah, “Set out for the great city of Nineveh, and preach against it; for their wickedness has come before me.” (Jonah 1:1-2). Disobeying and rejecting the divine commission given to him by God, Jonah goes to the port of Joppa, where he boards a ship hoping to escape from the LORD by sailing to Tarshish. He is cast overboard in a storm, and is swallowed by a great fish. He remains for three days and three nights in the belly of the fish; after which the fish vomits him upon dry land.

After this incredible adventure, Jonah obeys the LORD’s command and goes to Nineveh, capital of the Assyrian empire, Israel’s ancient enemy. The people of Nineveh listen to Jonah’s message of doom and repent immediately. All, from the king to the lowliest subject of the land, humble themselves by donning sackcloth and sitting on ashes. Seeing the repentance of the Ninevites, God does not carry out the punishment planned for them. But this greatly displeases Jonah, and he becomes angry and complains. And the LORD asks him, “Are you right to be angry?”

This is the background that we should know to understand what Jesus talks about in the Gospel of Luke 11:29-32.

While still more people gathered in the crowd, Jesus said to them,
“This generation is an evil generation;
it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it,
except the sign of Jonah.
Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites,
so will the Son of Man be to this generation.
At the judgment
the queen of the south will rise with the men of this generation
and she will condemn them,
because she came from the ends of the earth
to hear the wisdom of Solomon,
and there is something greater than Solomon here.
At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation
and condemn it,
because at the preaching of Jonah they repented,
and there is something greater than Jonah here.”

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