Jesus said to the crowds, ‘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 judgement 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 judgement with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!’
The word ‘hero’ used to be used as a way of distinguishing between the ordinary and the extra-ordinary. We could be certain that someone acclaimed as a ‘hero’ had exceeded the bounds of what might reasonably be expected of him or her. To be called a hero meant that others recognized just how far one had gone in the selfless service of others.
Today things are different. The word ‘hero’ seems to be defined in an alternative way. ‘Hero’ used to describe the personal, now it describes the general. So often, those whom the media herald as heroes are merely doing their jobs, they have not made a specific personal contribution that has taken them through the boundary that might reasonably justify their newly declared heroic status. Of course, the jobs that many of these people do offer many opportunities for heroism. But … there still has to be some sort of personal stepping out from the confines of the ordinary into the unknown depths of the personally extra-ordinary.
In today’s reading we hear reference to two ‘heroes’ of Jewish history, Solomon and Jonah. The wisdom of Solomon lives on to this day in our common language. It has been translated from the Hebrew and has become renowned down the ages as a wisdom that was exceptional and self-sacrificial.
A similar sense of self-sacrifice is associated with Jonah. Many of us know the story of Jonah and the whale … or we think we do. In reality, Jonah was called to be a prophet by God. He was called to go to a sinful land and proclaim God’s judgement on those people. Not surprisingly, Jonah was reluctant … but he went anyway.
Solomon’s wisdom came to him because he did not ask for worldly wealth and power. Instead, Solomon stepped away from what might have been his in order that he might claim a gift from God that could be used for the benefit of all. Jonah could not have been a more reluctant prophet, but he took God’s message into a strange and dangerous land, despite his reluctance, uncertainty and fear. Solomon and Jonah were heroes.
As we read today’s reading we are reminded of what we are called to do that is ‘out of the ordinary’, and that may indeed be truly heroic. We are also reminded of the extra-ordinary model we see in the earthly life and death of Jesus Christ.
The Son of God, the one who was with God in the very beginning of everything, stepped away from his heavenly power in order that he might share in the daily mess that is human life. Jesus is the ultimate hero. No one has or will offer us a greater role model or heroism than the one who gave everything to save the whole of humanity, for the whole of time.
Let us not get trapped in the superficial glory of mundane heroism. Instead, let us pray to God that he may choose us to step into the extra-ordinary and share his love, light and joy with others.