1st Week of Lent (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatula
I spent most of the day Monday reading signs. Driving to the Mississippi Delta and back for my grandfather's funeral was mostly an exercise in patience, endurance, and determination. Though I'd visited that part of the state many times over the years, I'd never driven, and my visits were always made north to south. There and back the weather was stormy—dark, wet, visibility was very limited. The google map I'd printed out was too detailed to read on the go and my sense of direction is much like my common sense: it appears randomly and it's not always reliable. Needless to say, I relied heavily on road signs to show me the way. Since I got there and back, we can say that the signs were helpful. But on a few occasions they were useless—mostly b/c I didn't know how to read them. For example, to get to 49W you have to take 55N to 220N. Easy enough until you realize—going 70mph in a storm—that to get to 220N from 55N you have to go east on 20 for just a mile or two outside Jackson. You have to know this b/c the signs don't tell you this. Reading signs—whether they are road signs or signs from God—requires literacy and a little wisdom. Jesus tells the crowd that b/c they are an evil generation, they will receive no more signs from God. They have all the signs they need. What they lack is the wisdom to read them correctly.
Think of all the signs God gave His people in the Old Testament—the miracles during the exodus from Egypt; the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; the various chastisements for disobedience meted out by foreign invaders, etc. All of these signs point to one unvarying truth: God always keeps His word. That's what the covenant is all about. God gave His word that the Jewish people are His people and He is their God. Part of the covenant is the coming of the promised Messiah, the suffering servant who will take on the sins of the world and die as a living sacrifice for world's salvation. One sacrifice made for all. Throughout his public ministry, Jesus goes to great lengths to show that he is the Anointed One promised by the signs of the covenant. Over and over again in his public teaching and preaching, he shows the crowds and the nation's elders that his arrival is the fulfillment of God's promises. The failure of most to read these signs is more than just a failure of their literacy; it's a failure of their wisdom. Having lived their lives with the covenant's prophecies as their road map, they still can't/won't read the clear signs that Jesus is the one sent by God to bring them redemption. Jesus calls their stubbornness, their blindness evil.
What's the cure for this kind of blind obstinacy? There is only one surefire cure: “My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a humbled and contrite heart, O God, you will not spurn.” An evil generation that demands a sign from God that He is being faithful to His word is a generation living with a proud heart, a heart closed and clogged by its demands for miraculous proof, demands for absolute clarity, demands for divine guarantees: “We will not risk surrendering ourselves to the Christ based on historical signs alone. We will submit ourselves only after we are absolutely sure that we have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Give us new signs that we might read them ourselves.” Wisdom comes when we humble ourselves before God's Self-revelation, setting aside our panicky need for reassurances and trusting instead in the Spirit. Then His road map is clear: wisdom assists literacy when we risk everything and sacrifice our contrite hearts to God. That's His guarantee.
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