Sarcophagus of Jonah,
Late 3rd century AD,
Carved Marble
© Vatican Museums

Sarcophagus of Jonah,
Late 3rd century AD,
Carved Marble
© Vatican Museums

Gospel of 24 July 2023

The only sign it will be given is the sign of the prophet Jonah

Matthew 12:38-42

Some of the scribes and Pharisees spoke up. ‘Master,’ they said ‘we should like to see a sign from you.’ He replied, ‘It is an evil and unfaithful generation that asks for a sign! The only sign it will be given is the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was in the belly of the sea-monster for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. On Judgement day the men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation and condemn it, because when Jonah preached they repented; and there is something greater than Jonah here. On Judgement day the Queen of the South will rise up with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and there is something greater than Solomon here.’

Reflection on the early Christian sarcophagus

The Scribes and Pharisees were looking for a divine sign from Jesus. Nothing has changed much, as even nowadays in this sophisticated world we live in, people look for external signs. We often even pray for signs. The problem is that asking for signs feels like a way to do away with the need for personal decision making. 'If I get a clear sign, then I will do this…'. But how often do we get a clear sign? Rarely. The building of one's faith is based on a continuous commitment of friendship with Christ and love for those around us. We will find the answers that we need in our friendship with Christ and in his gentle guidance.

Jesus is telling us in our reading today that he has only one sign to give us: himself after the Resurrection. Jesus draws a parallel with Jonah, whose preaching led the people of Nineveh to change their lives. That is what Jesus did too: bringing us the Good News, so that, like the people of Nineveh, we may change our ways too.

Our carved marble sarcophagus front was discovered when the new Saint Peter's basilica was built in the 16th century. Until then it had been buried. The front left depicts one of the early Christian's favourite stories: the story of Jonah and the big fish. On the left we see the sailors about to throw Jonah into the sea, feeding him to the big fish which is modelled as a proper sea monster. The monster then vehemently casts out Jonah on a barren rock on which he reclines and rests under a large castor oil plant that God provided so he can restore himself. Other scenes are depicted too, such as the raising of Lazarus, and two apocryphal scenes of Peter baptising and Peter being arrested.

 

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Mark Crain
Member
Mark Crain
10 months ago

“…find the answers that we need [for personal decision making] in our friendship with Christ and in his gentle guidance.” Thank you Fr Patrick for this reminder that righteous choices come from a continuous commitment to Christ. Peace be with the CA community today.

Noelle Clemens
Member
Noelle Clemens
10 months ago

Makes me wonder, if we had to have a carved or painted coffin, what scene would we choose? This sarcophagus is amazing, the detail fascinating. There’s the call to repentance, the rejection of the call, the rescue of the prophet, his rest under the plant/tree. Plus, plus…is the group top left worshipping a false God, or are they mourners visiting a body? Bottom right a fisherman with a basket on his arm, with his son, possibly; plus bird, and on the end of the line a crab, maybe some fish. All this to remind us that Jesus rose on the third day, and is our living companion, the fulfilment of all that went before…

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
10 months ago
Reply to  Noelle Clemens

Noelle you looked and observed in a more detailed way than I did. Thank you for encouraging me to look again. There is a strange bird about to dive in on the right as well – almost looks like a platypus! Lol
The whole thing is beautifully carved.
As for today’s subject for a painted coffin maybe a variety of crisp snacks, wotsits, curly wurlies, pringles with a subscript. Dave – he loved his snacks!!!

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
10 months ago
Reply to  Chazbo M

I try to illustrate the depthlessness of today’s values.

Noelle Clemens
Member
Noelle Clemens
10 months ago
Reply to  Chazbo M

You have a point! 🌻

Anthony
Member
Anthony
10 months ago
Reply to  Chazbo M

Maybe the adverts could pay the cost of the sarcophagos!😆🤣

Mark Crain
Member
Mark Crain
10 months ago
Reply to  Noelle Clemens

I also thank you for calling attention to myriad details in the sarcophagus. So much to take in! I think the upper left depicts the raising of Lazarus (as Fr Patrick mentions).

Noelle Clemens
Member
Noelle Clemens
10 months ago
Reply to  Mark Crain

Oh, thank you, missed that detail 🌻

Guy Van Holsbeke
Member
Guy Van Holsbeke
10 months ago

dommage que la traduction de mon texte en néerlandais soit si pauvre. Voici un meilleure version : Dans sa réponse aux scribes le Christ donne un réponse valable pour tous les temps. Où et quand l’homme a vécu, il sera récompensé s’il a pris à cœur le message de Dieu. C’est un message important pour nous tous. Au plus profond du coeur (de l’homme), Dieu nous parlera toujours !

Antonio Portelli
Member
Antonio Portelli
10 months ago

Thank you Fr Patrick for a wonderful reflection on the Gospel passage. We can easily relate to it in to-day’s modern life situations and options for quick solutions to our worries and problems.

Guy Van Holsbeke
Member
Guy Van Holsbeke
10 months ago

Christus overspant in zijn antwoord ‘alle tijden’. Waar en wanneer de mens heeft geleefd hij zal beloond worden als hij de boodschap van God ter harte heeft genomen. Dat is een belangrijke boodschap voor ons allemaal. Diep in de mens zal God steeds ons aanspreken !

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
10 months ago

I’ve never really warmed to the story of Jonah and the whale. Am I missing something as it can’t be an actual event being narrated?
Jesus’ wisdom being greater than Solomon’s is, to me, undeniable.

spaceforgrace
Member
spaceforgrace
10 months ago
Reply to  Chazbo M

There are real life reports of people being taken into the mouths of whales- so I don’t doubt there is some veracity to this story. I think Jesus here is relating it as a true event- and I believe Him!

spaceforgrace
Member
spaceforgrace
10 months ago

This is a stunning work- so much detail and so well-crafted!
It is a false thing to assume we can read signs. The news is full of them, and we may well be wise to attend to some things we can see with our own eyes are impacting on the world around us. What Jesus says here is that He is the only sign we need.

Just a footnote- yesterday this page became encrypted. I don’t know why this happened, or if anyone else noticed. Is it a sign we should pay attention to or not?

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
10 months ago
Reply to  spaceforgrace

Didn’t happen to me SFG although there was a huge jumbled message from a lady who said that her mobile had gone beserk!

spaceforgrace
Member
spaceforgrace
10 months ago
Reply to  Chazbo M

All seems well today- could have been the weather!

Polly French
Member
Polly French
10 months ago
Reply to  spaceforgrace

🙃🙏 a sign that God has a sense of humour SFG.. He often uses my gaucheness to keep me humble and give others a laugh 😃! ( I think the more I tried to edit it, the more it added to it or something else equally weird in the ICT world?!) No worries, a new day!

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