Straw for Gold - A Reflection on Luke 11:29-32
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 judgment 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 judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!
Jonah was a prophet who was called by God to preach repentance to Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria. The Assyrians were Israel’s archenemy, and they were very destructive people. Jonah hated them, so when God told him to go preach to them, he went off in the opposite direction. Bad idea. God sent a storm and Jonah ended up overboard and in the belly of a fish. He remained there for three days until he had a change of heart, and was spat out onto shore. He went to Nineveh, preached, and the people converted.
When Jesus speaks about the sign of Jonah, the point of comparison is the three days Jonah spent in the stomach of the fish and the three days Jesus would spend in the belly of the tomb. We find this pointed out with clarity in Matthew’s gospel where he says: “For as Jonah was in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40). The sign of Jonah is the sign of the resurrection.
The other person that Jesus speaks about was the “Queen of the South”. This was the Queen of Sheba, a woman of royal descent who ruled over what is today known as Yemen. She visited Solomon and acknowledged his wisdom and his God, even though she was a foreigner. The same was the case for the Ninevites. They were also foreigners, but they too repented, when Jonah preached to them.
The point Jesus was making here was that if people like these could believe and acknowledge God, then what excuse did they have when God was right in their midst? Instead of repenting, they were resisting. And I find it fascinating that this attitude is mirrored today in many who call themselves “believers”. They resist any attempt to listen to God’s word, and I always used to wonder why until I discovered it is largely fear that they would lose what they have.
Many people believe that if they come to Jesus, their lifestyle will change. This is true. When one starts journeying with Jesus, one changes. But this happens gracefully. I use the term deliberately. And it’s very gradual. Now, the person who is undergoing the change loves it because they begin to realize they are trading straw for gold. A worldly person watching themselves change however, begins to freak out because they don’t understand what’s happening and are afraid that if they do the same, they will lose what they have. Hence the resistance.
So, if you happen to be one of those resisting God, thinking you are going to lose what you have if you follow him, yes, you are. But what you will lose is straw. You will get gold in return.