Sign, sealed, delivered – Monday, 28th week in ordinary time – Luke 11: 29-32
Luke reveals his artistry as he creates unity of this passage by linking disparate passages in verses 14-36. These are based on controversies about the source of Jesus’ kingdom power. In verse 16 preceding this text the religious establishment asks for a sign from heaven to test him; in reality they did not care for any sign but simply wanted Jesus to submit to their seal of authority. They dare to say they just need to see more but the truth is that they had already observed several miracles and did not believe.
Their demands are flatly turned down for the very Word of God had come to them and they and showed how little they desired it. So Jesus contrasts the Jewish leadership with two examples; both of whom are pagan in origin and who were considered outsiders but both of whom were able to read the signs of the time and accept the truth unlike the Jewish authorities. Even though God had revealed so much to the chosen people of Israel these who knew so little were the ones who were responsive.
The first is the example of Jonah. Jonah was an Old Testament prophet who lived nearly 800 years before Christ and was sent to a pagan people in Nineveh, adjoining the current city of Mosul in Iraq. Jesus is contrasting the people of Nineveh with the people of His generation.
In the Gospel of Matthew, the ‘sign’ Jesus refers to is the mysterious sign of Jonah in the whale’s belly. Luke’s focus is quite different. It has to do with Jonah’s preaching of God’s word as the sign of repentance that was preached to the people which as a consequence led to repentance. The people of Jesus’ generation don’t and didn’t. repent. They were not showing hearts of receptivity but of resistance. It becomes so clear that they weren’t looking for a reason to believe, they were looking for a reason NOT to believe.
The second example cited is that of Queen Sheba. Sheba is believed to refer to an area of modern day Yemen in Arabia or Ethiopia in northern Africa. This queen of great education and wealth travelled from far away because she heard of the unusual wisdom of Solomon the King of Israel. When she met Solomon, she was blown away. She saw Solomon as the display of God’s justice, love, mercy, and righteousness in the world and she was amazed. This pagan queen praised God because of Solomon with his great wisdom.
Jesus is thus making a point. When the Queen of Sheba heard of King Solomon there was something in her that resonated, she recognized the wisdom that he had to offer, and she longed for that wisdom enough to travel with caravans and gifts from afar just to seek such wisdom. (c. 965-931 BCE)
Here in lies the condemnation of the people at the time of Jesus who rejected his message. Their condemnation would be all the more complete because their privileges were so great as compared to the people of Nineveh or the Queen of Sheba. Privilege and responsibility go ever hand in hand.
What is our take away?
Do I hear Jesus inviting me to change my life, or am I worthy of the same condemnation as Jesus’ contemporaries? Jonah’s work was to call a whole people to recognize their sin and need for God’s forgiveness.
All scripture can lead us to repentance – to a change of mind and heart to be more like the heart and mind of Jesus provided we heed the words of scripture. Sadly, it is rarely referred to and the Bible is in serious danger of deserving the cynical definition of a classic -a book of which everyone has heard and which no one reads.
- For a sin to be a sin there must be full knowledge and full consent. Culpability is linked to knowledge. If you have no knowledge of the existence of the word of God how can you be held liable; but you can’t cling to deniability when you know what God has said. The people of Nineveh knew nothing while the people of Jesus’ generation knew so much more. They had been taught the word of the prophets, every Sabbath day they came in the synagogue and they heard the Word of God read and explained and they sang the psalms together but before the presence of God now before them they choose not to respond. We have freedom to worship as we think right, the tragedy is that so many people have used that freedom in order not to worship at all. That privilege, too, is a responsibility for which we shall answer.