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We would see a sign

Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Wednesday 1 of Lent

Readings: Jonah 3:1-10; Psalm 50; Luke 11:29-32

In today’s gospel, the crowds ‘seek a sign’. They want Jesus to perform a miracle of the kind that they think they will recognise; they would like Christ to behave in a way that they think they can identify as ‘God’s way’. In effect, they are looking for the kind of God they expect to find.

These crowds are not alone in asking Jesus to fit their expectations. Christ often has to negotiate, one way or another, the gap between what people think God’s servant ought to be like and the way he actually is. Even his followers continually misinterpret his intentions.

But why cannot Christ just give the crowds the ‘sign’ they demand? Why cannot God give us that ‘sign’?

I think the answer is that he is just not that kind of God.

In Christ, God appears to the world stripped of anything that makes him different from other human beings; he comes without supernatural accompaniments. It is true that Christ performs miracles, but they are not really ‘miracles on demand’ and they are meant to communicate something specific about the meaning of his life or his place in the history of salvation. In fact, there is a real sense in which the miraculous just does not lie at the heart of Christ’s life at all. Instead of offering supposedly supernatural certification of who he is, Christ points elsewhere.

In today’s gospel, while refusing to give a ‘sign’, Christ demands something which is, on the face of it, much more commonplace. He demands that the crowds change their hearts and minds, that they repent. This is something Christ continually asks in one way or another. It is there, he seems to say, that God would be seen - when people turn away from falsity, apathy and indifference. This would be an event less obviously spectacular and dramatic than what the crowd means by a ‘sign’, but if people would seek forgiveness and peace, take themselves less seriously, attend to each other, that really might be a ‘sign’.


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