this post also contains a bit of material from the earlier post “signs and wonders”
“Our earth is degenerate in these latter days. There are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end. Bribery and corruption are common.”–Assyrain Tablet, 2800 BCE
Luke 11 is the chapter that includes Jesus teaching the Lord’s prayer, as well as “seek and ye shall find, ask and it shall be given unto you.” It also includes a great deal of what I think we can call “cranky Jesus.” My personal favourite bit is when a woman in the crowd calls out to Jesus “blessed is the woman who gave birth to you and nursed you!” (sort of an early Hail Mary!) and Jesus counters with “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!” as if he’s responding to a heckler rather than someone praising his mother.
Then there’s the gospel passage we just heard.
I think it’s fair to say that we live, just as Jesus did, in an “evil generation.” I think it’s probably also fair to say that every generation in recorded history– and most likely since the fall– has been an “evil generation.” Humans have at their core a delightful propensity for love, creativity, and, well, messing things up royally. For every Nineveh there are dozens of Sodoms and heaps of Gomorrahs. It’s much more common for people to do the easy wrong thing than the difficult right thing, and humankind keeps on failing.
And we keep on asking for signs. Nineveh gets a pretty good one in the form of Jonah getting puked up onto its shores out of the belly of a whale, but God doesn’t ordinarily speak in such theatrical terms. I spent much of my youth surrounded by apocalyptic enthusiasts, including my own grandfather, who watched every newscast and hooted “Signs and wonders!” at the television whenever there was a natural disaster or a political machination.
Now, “signs and wonders” appears in the Bible, particularly in Acts.It’s a good phrase. Like a lot of good phrases, it’s all in the way it’s used that gives it weight. It’s a phrase that’s often been used by those poking the anxieties of others by predicting with often scientific precision, the end of the world. People from Nostradamus, to Martin Luther, to Jim Jones have all written either with down-to the minute science or vague generalities when the end times would commence.
If you Google the phrase “signs and wonders”–and I actually recommend you do not, in the same way I wouldn’t recommend you google your symptoms if you weren’t feeling well–you will find yourself in an oubliette of doomsday predictions, some of them gleefully expectant of the end of the world. It’s a recipe for sleepless nights, fearful days, and–at the very edge of the spectrum, violence against those you fear.
In this reading, Jesus is expressing frustration at the people’s need for a sign. Jesus, after all, is standing right there. What better sign did they need? Again and again Christ told his followers of the depth of his importance and again and again they asked for signs, for wonders, for miracles, for proof. It was those at the margins– the hemmoraging woman, the blind man at the roadside, the Centurion in the doorway, the leper healed on the Sabbath that received healings for themselves and others by their faith and Christ’s love alone with no expectation of anything else.
Returning to our age of anxiety–indeed, humankind’s constant age of anxiety, the Bible tells us again and again to not be afraid. The other thing that we are reminded again and again of is that we are loved.
Indeed, we would find it difficult to continue to move forward without this love. In the psalm today we have the beautiful phrase “but I, by your great love, can come into your house.” This love, this great love– this is the sign. Like Jonah being swallowed by the whale, Jesus would be swallowed by the grave, and like Jonah, Jesus would return from that darkness. Jesus was the love of God incarnate, and Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross the greatest symbol of this love. The resurrection is a sign of the worthiness of creation, of humanity, of us. As flawed as we are, as evil as our generations are, and will no doubt continue to be until he comes again in glory, this love is for us.
This is the sign, thanks be to God.