Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Wednesday in the 1st Week of Lent
Responding to the Sign
Readings: Jonah 3:1-10; Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 18-19; Luke 11:29-32


This is a wicked generation; it is asking for a sign. The only sign it will be given is the sign of Jonah…

One may well wonder why Jesus is so worked up in the gospel of today. What’s wrong with seeking a sign? Isn’t it simply another way of searching for God, of finding out what God wants of us in the here and now? But wait. Hasn’t God already indicated what God wants? Hasn’t God already sent the Sign of all signs – Jesus, the only Son of the Father? And hasn’t this same Jesus been working many signs: miracles of great power and healing? Indeed, the people have been witnesses and even beneficiaries of the signs worked by the Sign. Here then lies the problem. This generation has received the signs but rejected the Sign. They have benefited from the miracles but refused to accept their deeper significance. At root, the miracles of Jesus are a proclamation of good news: liberty to captives, new sight to the blind, freedom to the downtrodden (see Luke 4:18). But one can only accept the good news if one is ready to repent, something which this generation firmly refuses to do. We might consider, for a moment, what this generation is like.

Perhaps most strikingly, it is a generation of insiders. These are the people who take pride in being God’s chosen ones. These are the ones who belong to the same country as all the prophets, and as Jesus himself (see Luke 4:24). These are the ones who ought to recognize the signs, and the Sign. Instead, they turn out to be like someone faced with a crucial decision who knows, deep down, what is the wise choice to make, but, for one reason or another, prefers to do the opposite. So s/he keeps postponing the decision, and goes looking for advice from one person after another, until s/he finds someone who is likeminded. In a sense this person is looking for a sign, but only a very specific sign. What is sought is a sign that only confirms the choice to which s/he is inclined, a sign that requires no change to be made to the status quo. This is the problem. This is why Jesus is so worked up.

To such a generation Jesus can offer nothing else – since nothing else will be accepted – but the sign of Jonah, the same Jonah who, in the first reading, preaches in this fashion: only forty days more and Nineveh is going to be destroyed. In other words, stop messing around already! If you don’t change now, you will die! Jesus’ lament is that while the Ninevites, who were gentile outsiders, responded with repentance, this generation remains obstinately unmoved. It continues to seek a sign.

The parallel with our situation is quite obvious. Isn’t this the whole significance of these forty days of Lent? We are the insiders of today. We are the ones to whom the message of repentance is being addressed. We heard it at the beginning, on Ash Wednesday: Now is the favourable time… Repent and be faithful to the Gospel.

How shall we respond?

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