There are different kinds of “signs”, but no matter what the kind, Jesus says in Matthew 12:38-42 that they will not be given.
Some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Jesus,
“Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.”
He said to them in reply,
“An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign,
but no sign will be given it
except the sign of Jonah the prophet.
Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights,
so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth
three days and three nights.
At the judgment, the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation
and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah;
and there is something greater than Jonah here.
At the judgment the queen of the south will arise with this generation
and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth
to hear the wisdom of Solomon;
and there is something greater than Solomon here.”
I’ve talked before about people who look for signs in every terrible thing they see happening in the world. In this reading from earlier in the week, the theme returns.
Most often, when we hear of someone seeking signs we think of someone looking for miracles. But someone can also “seek” or look for signs from God in the everyday events of our lives. Church conservatives are very good at that, finding God’s hand in every disaster and disappointment in life as if God would punish everyone in the path of misery for the sins of a few or even the many at the expense of the innocent. But that’s never been how Jesus has preached the Gospel, instead talking about God’s love, compassion, and mercy.
And Jesus makes it clear, God doesn’t do signs on demand, whether in the moment or after the fact. “An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it.” Instead, focus on the sign that is the death and resurrection of Jesus. If you’re looking for the retribution of God for sin – and that is what the conservatives of the Church are looking for in these “signs” – you will have to wait for the final judgment. Jesus is essentially condemning those who look for signs, which include acts of retribution rather than in signs of God’s love and acts of mercy.
Most who seek signs of God’s action in retribution are harking back to the stories of the Old Testament. But Jesus makes clear in the New Testament that those days are over. God acts out of love. In the birth and life and death and resurrection of Jesus, His only Son, the Father declares not war on us but peace and love. And God wants us to share that love through faith, hope, and charity. We are commanded to love God and to love one another. He doesn’t want us to scare each other, He wants to embrace each other, through the grace of embracing Him.
So the next time some old-time preacher tells you that a devastating natural disaster or someone’s disability or personal misfortune is because they sinned, remind them of Jesus’ retort: An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it. Your sign will come at your judgment. Judge not lest you be judged. And remember, also, that when Jesus was asked whether a man was made blind because his parents had sinned or because he was a sinner, Jesus said it was neither; it was to reveal the glory of God — and I personally believe that God didn’t make the mad blind for His own glory but that Jesus made the man see and that brought glory to God.
If the world would just stop judging! Just stop condemning. If it seeks a sign from God, read the Gospels and witness the birth, the life, the sacrifice, and the resurrection of Jesus the Christ. There is your sign.
Glory to God!