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Asking for Signs

Asking for Signs

"This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it. . .” (Luke 11:29 bc).

Have you ever wondered what Jesus was referring to when he talks about signs demanded by the people to whom he is preaching?  After all, he performs many signs and wonders as he makes his way through the countryside and visits the various communities of Israel.

When Assyria attacked Israel and Judah around 587 B.C., the young, the fit, the wealthy, and the soldiers were deported to Babylon.  The Temple of Solomon, sometimes referred to as the first temple, was destroyed by the invaders at that time.  Because of the impending attack, the priests and Levites decided to hide the Ark of the Covenant in a cave and seal its entrance in the hopes that the invading army would not lay their hands on this sacred object.  In fact, the Ark was lost at this time.  When the Babylonian Exile came to an end during the reign of King Cyrus of Persia, no one could remember where the Ark had been hidden.  As this was the most sacred object of Jewish faith and worship, a tradition grew up stating that the Ark would be found when the Messiah arrived to deliver Israel.  When the various factions that opposed Jesus ask for a sign, this is what they want. 

Jesus instead points their attention to other signs.  He cites the conversion of Nineveh through the preaching of Jonah and the fact that the Queen of Sheba came to listen to the Wisdom of Solomon, adding that something greater than these signs is in their midst.  This retort would simply rub salt in the wounds of the chief priests and elders.  In all of the Hebrew Scriptures, only Jonah is successful as a prophet.  All of the other prophets failed to convince their audiences of the need to repent.  Jonah preached to Gentiles.  All of the other prophets preached to the Israelites.  Only Gentiles heeded God’s Word.  The Queen of Sheba was also a Gentile.  Yet while she sought out the Wisdom of Solomon, the present generation fails to grasp the fact that Jesus is the font of Wisdom.

Of course, the enemies of Jesus would be infuriated by such claims.  They insulted them and claimed that Gentiles were better at listening to God that they were.  As God’s Chosen People, they had failed while Gentiles had succeeded. 

Something of the same mentality still exists among us today.  If the truth comes to us from someone outside of our inner circle, we often fail to listen.  Like the people of old, we tend to murder the prophets that are sent among us.  Worse than that, we also tend to ignore them and relegate them to the realm of the preposterous. 

The fact of the matter is that God chooses to speak to us through the most unlikely among us.  God often chooses the young, members of different races, the poor, the outcast as messengers.  God does this for a reason.  God’s intent is make sure that we realize that God’s Word comes from God, not from human beings.  Be wary of those who claim to preach the Good News while storing up for themselves great reputations and great wealth.  God’s Kingdom is the Kingdom of the Poor and Downtrodden.

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

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