October 17, 2017
While still more people gathered in the crowd, Jesus said to them,
"This generation is an evil generation;
it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it,
except the sign of Jonah.
Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites,
so will the Son of Man be to this generation.
At the judgment
the queen of the south will rise with the men of this generation
and she will condemn them,
because she came from the ends of the earth
to hear the wisdom of Solomon,
and there is something greater than Solomon here.
At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation
and condemn it,
because at the preaching of Jonah they repented,
and there is something greater than Jonah here."
Dear fellow pilgrims,
It took me a few reads of the gospel (as well as the footnotes) today to understand a little of what Jesus’ point might have been here.
First of all, it’s interesting that Jesus remarks that the generation is “evil” because “it seeks a sign,” and yet, we know that His death and resurrection will be the sign to the people. It seems Jesus is more so saying that the desire for plentiful and obvious signs is sinful, so much so that little faith is actually required, but He loves us so much that He is willing to give us a few signs to help us along. Jesus will not make us have faith in what all of His signs truly point to and represent, but He knows we need help getting there. Faith wouldn't be faith if it was granted and obvious.
In Matthew’s account of this passage, there is a bit more explanation from Jesus about the type of sign He will provide (i.e. “the sign of Jonah"). He makes an explicit connection between His death and the story of Jonah: “Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.” Jesus is pointing to Himself as the fulfillment of this history, telling them that He knows He is a part of, an extension of all of the tradition and happenings in salvation history that came before: He points out that He is the “something greater.”
I think this “something greater” is a call for all of us to listen to Jesus at all times. We must pay attention to the signs that He is already providing before we go on and ask for more obvious signs, or when we're like GOSH Jesus, why can't this working-out-my-salvation thing be easier or simpler?? Just SEND ME A SIGN telling me where I should find a job or who I should try to flirt with. This type of exasperation is a sign (heh) that y'all need to have a little more faith.
But sometimes, we can have a little too much faith that a sign is "THE sign". That is, there are things that happen in our lives that may be from God to help us along His plan for us, but sometimes we hang on to a particular interpretation of them so hard that we fail to see how our current circumstances might be leading us towards what our previous circumstances and signs prepared us for. We might fail to see how the “signs” from our past are being fulfilled in a greater way in the present. The evil in the generation longing for a sign is a generation who does not think they need faith to benefit from God. They are a generation who thinks that God “owes” them, that God is someone who merely is something to be figured out.
Spoiler alert… Jesus is always the “something greater,” because of Who He Is. We have our whole lives to submit to His will, but that amount of time is infinitesimally smaller than the fullness of His infinite glory and majesty. The circumstances of our lives will always serve as the only way in which we can experience Him in a greater way than we had before.
May we be part of a generation who does not seek yet another sign but reads the signs that Jesus has already laid for us. May we always expect “something greater,” may we always expect Him to reveal more and more of Himself through the workings of our daily lives and not ask for something “more spiritual” or seemingly easier to have faith. Jesus calls us to look for Him in our individual lives, and more specifically, to recognize our lives as living signs and representations of His work throughout humanity. May we submit to the fact that having faith in Jesus is giving Him permission to always surprise you with how good and faithful He is, and how He submits to our weakness by providing us just enough signs to understand who He is and what He wants us to do.
Before I sign off, I’d like to share a sign of God’s love that I recently experienced while looking at Leo sleeping in his crib. I was thinking of how I am one of a few people who hold memories of these past almost eight months of his life, how Leo will have no recollection of these memories. I am the keeper of his past, in a way, in memory and experience. I can look at Leo and recall with love what it was like to hold him as a fresh newborn. It suddenly struck me that God looks at us right now in the same way, but He can see our future, what He hopes for us, all of our “something greater’s” that He desires for us. He can see where and when we will choose Him, and where we will choose the lesser road. But His love right now, in this moment of our life, is not lessened by this knowledge of our future failings. How confident we should be in our loving Father, who always is watching over our lives through eyes of love, longing for us to choose what is greater… longing for us to heed His calls and road to Heaven, to Himself!