Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, To all God's beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Sing a new song to the Lord
for he has worked wonders.
His right hand and his holy arm
have brought salvation. (R./)
The Lord has made known his salvation;
has shown his justice to the nations.
He has remembered his truth and love
for the house of Israel. (R./)
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.
Shout to the Lord all the earth,
ring out your joy. (R./)
When the crowds were increasing, Jesus 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!>
Some non-Christians seem to live with more gentleness and honesty than many Christian believers. This was foreseen by Jesus himself, when he compared the gentiles with his Jewish compatriots. The queen of the south represents Africa, most likely Ethiopia. To most Israelites, that distant land would have seemed almost impossible to reach. But Ethiopia came to visit Solomon in the person of the queen of the south (1 Kings 10:1-13). Similarly, the Ninevites, those hated Assyrians who caused such havoc and destruction to neighbouring countries, could be converted by the preaching of Jonah. In spite of their little religious background, these pagans came to a vibrant faith in God. We who follow Jesus have seen and heard from him all that we need for a living faith. What a shame if we who have so much should achieve so little to promote the faith.
Each of us, says Saint Paul, is governed by not one but two life-principles. We are born of the flesh in the natural order, and born of the spirit in the supernatural order. The first follows the natural law of generation: conception, birth, life in the flesh. Paul compares this to Judaism with its multiple laws to regulate each moment of human existence. Our rebirth through the Spirit surpasses our natural potency, and leads to eternal life. Human flesh is doomed to die, but the spirit is promised eternal life. The spirit co-exists with our corruptible human nature and liberates us from its slavery to death.
This dual life-principle is modelled in Jesus, says Paul, in his opening words to the Romans. Jesus was descended from David according to the flesh but was made Son of God in power, by his resurrection from the dead. Salvation comes through the Spirit, not only in Jesus' case but for all of humanity. The Spirit is somehow present in every person in the world. Like the first Christians in Rome, we have the benefit of the Scriptures, the sacred liturgy and a long tradition of saints. In our lives too, the Holy Spirit brings the fruits of love, joy and peace. Already here on earth we anticipate eternal life, for Jesus, far greater than Solomon or Jonah, dwells among us.
If the people of Nineveh responded with faith to Jonah and if the Queen of the South showed such trust in Solomon, how much more should Jesus' contemporaries have responded to him. The same Jesus who preached and healed in the villages of Galileeis present to us as risen Lord. But we can fail to appreciate his presence among us.
Like his contemporaries, we can engage in a futile search for miracles without recognizing the quiet signs of his presence all around us. The greatest sign of the Lord's presence is during our Eucharistic gatherings. There, our Lord is present to us with his assurance, "This is my body; This is my blood." Receiving the holy Eucharist we are coming to someone greater than Jonah or Solomon. Jesus is present to us in other ways also. We respond to him by following in his way, as the people of Nineveh responded to Jonah's call. Gifted and graced by his presence, we are to live under his inspiration and example.