A generation that wants a sign – Monday, 16th week in ordinary time -Matthew 12: 38-42
Like a well-constructed iced cake; hypocrisy comes layered with flattery and lies. The Pharisees and scribes could well conduct many such successful mater classes for they had perfected the art of hypocrisy. The reality was that they had no love lost for Jesus even though they approached Him with honorific titles. Chapter twelve of Matthews Gospel is a well laid out expose of their web of deceit.
Jesus cuts to the chase and rips through the flattery of the Pharisees. They want a sign and before He turns down their ‘request’ He calls them out; “evil and adulterous.” Take a moment to let that sink in. Often we read the Gospels like a story book with some amount of detachment from the characters. So for once, rather imagine yourself standing in the crowd when Jesus said that to the Pharisees. There must have been a gasp of horror, He shamed the religious leaders in public.
Jesus does not mince words for He was no diplomat. He was the straight taking Son of God who came to do the will of His Father and He did it with great courage. Make no mistake; this tender and compassionate “Rabbi” had no qualms in standing up to a morally bankrupt establishment. No wonder the Pharisees and scribes set trap after trap to trip Him.
So what might simply be lost to us is the evil behind the intention of asking for a sign. They ask for something that they have already had ten of. Jesus in Chapter eight and nine has worked ten fantastic signs and yet they want another one. Would the descent of the angels satisfy their need for proof? I doubt it! Their intention was not to see the wonder of God but to trap the Son of God.
Jesus cites the example of his resurrection as the only sign they are to receive. Using the sign of Jonah, he explains that as Jonah was in the belly of the ‘sea monster’ so will the Son of Man. The resurrection of the Lord should have been proof enough for the Jewish readers of Matthew’s Gospel. Yet there was no repentance or change of heart in the Jewish persecutors of Matthews’s community. They had attacked the Master and now did the same to his followers.
Perhaps the Gospel of today is a reflection of our own ‘wicked generation’ that throngs weeping statues and blood dripping crosses. The greatest sign of the Lords presence is the memorial He has left for us in the Eucharist. Yet we seek among the brambles for cherries that don’t exist.
What Jesus really wanted was a repentant heart like those of the people of Nineveh in today’s gospel. They, who were the hated enemies of Jonah’s people, harkened to the voice of a prophet who belonged to the country they despised and harkening, repented. The listeners of Jesus were no strangers to the Jonah narrative. They had heard the story of Jonah and they knew that their neighbouring enemies had repented when God called them to do so through Jonah; yet they themselves refuse to do so themselves.
The power of a repentant penitent is most strongly seen in the tears that drip on the wood of the confessional. If only those confessionals could talk! Nowhere else is mercy offered so freely as before a priest in the confessional. Perhaps many of us think that repentance is old fashioned but it is not out-dated so long as sin exists.
Fr Warner D’Souza
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