21 July 2008

Toothbrushes and Whales, oh my!

16th Week OT(M): Micah 6.1-4, 6-8 and Matthew 12.38-42
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory

[NB. This is my Last American Homily. . .]

Up for the second time last night and headed to the bathroom in that staggering daze just after waking, I was shown a truth about my world I had never thought to question. There just about three feet from the floor, hovering in mid-air, is a small glowing object. I stare for a moment, without my glasses, in the dark, and think for just a second or two that perhaps the Lord has sent an angel to tell me something amazing. As I contemplate this greenish-yellow glow, thinking about revelations, dreams, visions, and prophecies, I am suddenly struck by the truth of what I am seeing, nearly felled by a revelation about my world I had never thought to question; but there it is, as plain as the shine of a full moon in October, there it is in plain view, and I realize with a nearly blinding clarity: my toothbrush glows in the dark! Then, just being me, the question arises: why would anyone think to make toothbrushes glow in the dark? Stumbling back to bed, I chuckle myself to sleep wondering what we would all look like if our teeth glowed in the dark.

Strictly speaking, my “vision” of the glowing toothbrush was a discovery not a revelation. Its discovery was accidental and has no mean meaning beyond what I can give it in a homily about seeking after signs of God’s presence. As a divine sign my glowing toothbrush fails what we can call here the “From Test;” that is, my toothbrush shining in the darkness on the sink cannot be said to be “from” God. And though we can rightly say that anything made is made by a creature who in turn is created by the Creator and reveals his/her Creator as a creature, we cannot say that a glowing toothbrush made by a creature reveals much about God. Signs point the way and make present that which they signify. Divine signs point the way to God and make His presence knowable to those who desire to know Him.

The scribes and Pharisees are understandably both curious and worried about Jesus’ claims to be the Son of God. They approach him and make a reasonable request, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” Traditionally, those claiming to be “sent from God” provide signs that point to God’s presence and make Him knowable. These men are educated, pious, intellectually curious, and therefore rightly seek some indication from this rabble-rousing preacher that he is who he claims to be. Show us a sign. Jesus’ response is unexpected and harsh: “An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it…” We have to wonder why Jesus is being so stubborn. We know he is capable of miraculous deeds. Why not show these men what they need to see?

Jesus says that no sign will be given to them “except the sign of Jonah the prophet.” Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days and nights, so the Son of Man will be “in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.” Jonah is expelled from the whale and goes on to preach repentance to the decadent citizens of Nineveh. They repent and return to God’s favor. So Jesus too, expelled from the grave and risen from the dead, will be a sign to the scribes and Pharisees and a sign to us that Jesus is indeed who he claims to be. Jesus goes on to add that on the day of judgment, “the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, b/c they repented at the preaching of Jonah…” Needing no other sign than the earnest preaching of an honest prophet, the citizens of Nineveh return to God.

Living here on the edge of the end of the first decade of the 21st century, can we be counted an “evil and unfaithful generation” seeking after signs? What signs could we seek? Crying statues? Marian apparitions? Bleeding Hosts? Yes, all of these and many more. But do we need these signs? We do not. We have a magisterial Church, her Eucharist, a divine guarantee against defeat, and pews packed with priests, prophets, and kings. All of these speak with one voice to say what is good and what the Lord requires: “Only to do the right and love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.”