The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, asking him for a sign from heaven, to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, ‘Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.’ And he left them, and getting into the boat again, he went across to the other side.
In the story that Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man asked Abraham in paradise to send a sign to his brothers to warn them. But Abraham answered, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them” (Luke 16:29). To a royal official Jesus complained, "Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe" (John 4:48). And in today’s reading he said, “No sign will be given to this generation.” He was not for satisfying people’s demands for signs and proofs.
I used to have regular visits from a person who always had highly dramatic stories of signs from God and visions, and messages from Our Lady. The delivery was so fluent that it would almost pull you into its mad swirl. I always took care to express my scepticism about those experiences. But she was so deaf to the outer world that it took her months to realise I was not a supporter. She would appear deeply religious, but in reality she was hardly religious at all – just crazy, I believe. As the world becomes more dangerous every day, many join her in her flight into a magic world. That world wants to claim the credentials of the Christian faith, but we should shout, “No sign will be given to this generation.”
But didn’t Jesus work signs and miracles? Yes, but not for ulterior motives. Many people who want signs are seeking them for some purpose that has nothing to do with religion. In the case of the Pharisees their motive was “to test him.” I could seek signs in order to feel special, or to mask my deep loneliness, or even to compete with others in a prayer group.
Everything speaks of God; isn’t that enough? “Every creature is full of God and is a book,” said Meister Eckhart. He was only giving voice to the long tradition. “The heavens proclaim the glory of God / And the firmament shows forth the work of his hands” (Psalm 18). On the road you need signs only if you don't know which way to go. But we know the way we have to go. “I am the way,” (John 14:6). It would be strange if one were to develop a fixation on road-signs – admiring their shapes, colours, lettering, etc. – and never realise that they are all pointing somewhere else.
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