If you read Chicago newspapers, you couldn’t miss the story some weeks ago about the city bar fight which caused a tragic death and a drawn-out legal fight, bringing a conviction but only a light sentence. It all ended with the victim’s mother saying “I never wanted vengeance, only an apology!” I suspect an earlier apology was disallowed by legal advice: what a shame! Thankfully, God isn’t held to such tactics.

Jonah never believed the Ninevites would listen to the message of repentance God wanted him to give; he tried desperately to avoid this “mission impossible.” But it turned out that the Ninevites did listen! They apologized – and God abandoned any plans of vengeance.

In referring to “the sign of Jonah” Jesus is telling us that he is bringing God’s word of forgiveness to us who are not so different from the Ninevites. We do bad and stupid things and often think we can’t be forgiven – when all God needs is an honest apology.

Lord, when I recognize my sin, help me turn to you with all my heart and hear you say to me what you said to another truly sinful person once: “Neither do I condemn you: go and sin no more!”

Fr. John J. O’Callaghan, S.J. is senior chaplain for the health sciences division at Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine in Maywood IL