29 February 2012

No sign for you!

1st Week of Lent (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Recently, I wandered out of the priory to search for some summer clothes. With an address and a printed Google map in hand, I headed out west toward Clearview Parkway to a men's clothing store that caters to those of us who require a bit more yardage in our wardrobe; that's to say this particular store has what I call a “Deep and Wide” department. While trying to find this store, I discovered that following a Google map of New Orleans is a lot like looking for pirate treasure using map on the back of a Captain Crunch cereal box. Less than useless. For example, I passed the store and needed to turn around. Easy. Just make a left turn, right? Wrong. The road was being repaired and drivers we directed by a large sign to make a complicated detour. So, I made the detour. But I couldn't get back on the parkway b/c another sign prohibited left turns. So, I drove a little further to make the turn. No dice. Looming ahead was the Hughey Long Bridge. I had to turn left at the next opportunity or go over the bridge. This opportunity arrived and proved worthy of New Orleans traffic. Another large sign directed traffic to turn left for a detour and another smaller sign just underneath it read, “No left turns.” I can now say that I've driven over the Hughey Long Bridge! The lesson here is: roads signs are useful only if they make sense, and in making sense of them, it helps to know the history of the place.

When Jesus tells the crowd that no other sign than the sign of Jonah will be given them, they know which sign he's talking about even if they're bit confused about how to read it. What the crowd would prefer is an unambiguous sign of Jesus' divine power. Call down some angels. Turn a big rock into gold. Change the desert into an oasis. A bold, dramatic sign; something obviously and undeniably divine. Jesus refuses to do this b/c he sees their clamoring for divine signs as a sign of their evil intent, a sign that they are not yet ready to trust in the Word of their Father. What good is a sign if the one reading it doesn't understand its meaning? What good is a sign if the one reading it isn't ready to follow its direction? Jesus knows that a heart needing proof is not a heart eager to trust. Rather than give the crowd a useless sign, he tells them—in effect—to wait and watch. Their much-requested sign was on its way: he would be killed and three days later he would rise from his tomb. Only those eager to trust in his Word would correctly read this sign of Jonah.

We know Jonah's story and we know that Jesus was killed and rose from his tomb. Still, like the evil generation that Jesus' refuses to coddle, we too clamor for signs. Living in this world of trials and temptations will send even the most faithful among us to our knees begging God for a clearer sign of His presence, a more tangible hint of His loving-care. We could see this as a weakness, a moment of betrayal; or, we could see it for what it really is: a chance to learn how to read the signs of His love a little more clearly. Faith is a powerful clarifying agent, a mighty force that draws sharp distinctions and provides trustworthy direction. Signs of God's love flood our daily lives, overwhelming any and all attempts by the Enemy to confuse and discourage us. The Lenten desert is the perfect time and place for us to beg God to strengthen our faith so that His signs become glaring neon and unmistakable. Start by giving Him thanks for His signs, especially when you don't see them clearly. Gratitude magnifies the smallest blessing into the brightest sign.

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