12 Oct 2020

Redemptoris Mater Seminary, Chester Hill, 12 October 2020

Jesus’ caustic reproaches today (Lk 11:29-32) are occasioned by people asking for signs, for proof that the outrageous things He said and did were from God. On the face of it, that’s human enough: we all have our doubts about the claims of gurus, theologians and experts, let alone the remorseless critics of religion like the ABC and the SMH. Most of us have our self-doubts, too, from time to time, and especially when our faith seems weak, we yearn for something to convince us once and for all.

Yet Jesus responds strangely, seemingly without His usual understanding and compassion, telling them they are evil for looking for a sign and will be condemned for it. ‘Surely God has done enough,’ He sighs, ‘in giving you the signs of Jonah, the Queen of Sheba, and the rest, indeed in giving you something much greater than these in Jesus the Christ?’ Surely God has proved enough, through creation, providence, redemption? Through the whole history of salvation, of the Old Israel and the New? Surely He’s corroborated enough in the everyday miracles of birth and life, of beauty and love, of goodness and reconciliation, of truth and healing? If these are insufficient, no sign, no wisdom, will satisfy you guys and your insatiable appetite for proofs, curiosities, entertainments.

So the first important lesson from today’s Gospel passage is that our God is not a god-in-a-bottle, a personal genie who will jump to attention and give us whatever we want. Sure, He graces and empowers us in so many ways, but He also impresses upon us the need to accept responsibility for our own actions, for each other and for our world. He permits us to experience a certain amount of insecurity, discomfort, need.

Jesus fosters no illusions about it being an easy ride for His companions, no prosperity Gospel. He is no meal-ticket to earthly security, no gravy-train to heaven. He chooses to work most of His miracles in and through the mundane and everyday, recognising our best efforts and multiplying them, taking our little faith and hope and love and magnifying them. So much of what God does for us has no razzamatazz or voices from heaven, no fireworks or divided seas,  to draw attention to it. Our God, it seems, is rather less controllable than a magician, and rather less demonstrative than a pop star

There is another lesson Our Lord gives us today: that no end of signs and wonders will convince the hard of heart. Jesus reproaches our ancestors today because wisdom enough to persuade the mind of the Queen of Sheba and signs enough to convert the hearts of the Ninevites, were not enough for them. Revelation after revelation, teaching after teaching, prophet after prophet, and still they asked for more.

The fact is, when we say we want a sign, what we mean is we want our kind of miracle, when and where and how we want it, on our terms. But most miracles only happen for us if we are receptive to the unexpected, if we have at least the beginnings of belief, or some openness to belief, so we won’t just dismiss the signs when they come or miss them altogether. Earlier in our Gospel (Lk 4:16-30; cf. Mt 13:53-58), when Jesus returned to his hometown of Nazareth, there was a similar incident to that we heard today, and the crowds were astonished by His wisdom and signs, yet they would not accept Him, would not believe in Him. “No prophet is honoured in his own town,” He observed – which is perhaps why most neo-kittens are sent to other countries to be formed for their prophetic work! In his version of the incident (Mk 6:1-6), Mark includes a shocking line: “He could do no miracle there, apart from laying hands on a few to heal them.” Our incredulity, like our insatiable appetite for signs and wonders, disables God: like radios with a flat battery, if we are unreceptive no end of radio waves will make for any communication.

So we come to our third lesson today: that there is something wiser than Solomon here, something more miraculous than Jonah. Who is that something greater? After all, Solomon was the wisest man there ever was, as the Bible attests (1Kings 3:5-12; 4:30-34). Yet “there is something greater than Solomon here”. He might be the wisest of men, but Jesus is the wisdom of God. And if Solomon was the wisest, Jonah was surely the luckiest, surviving as he did three days in the whale’s gut. But Jesus is the most blessed of men, for He was three days in the belly of death and yet escaped. So we must not be like the hometown crowd, blind to what’s standing before us!

As future priests it is your job to notice the Wise and Wonderful Counsellor, who is Mighty God and Prince of Peace (Isa 9:6), attending to Him in the wonders He works every day, in every life. To foster the action of that miraculous grace in your own hearts and minds, and those of the people with whom you come in contact. To make yourselves voices for His wisdom, not your own, and instruments of His power.

Yours is the task, also, of correcting false views of God, as Jesus does today, and false views of ourselves and our relationship to God. Yours the mission of helping others not to look for special-effects that suit or titillate them, but for the true signs they are given, by the One who knows what they most need. Yours the mandate to enable rather than disable God, by making hearts receptive to His transmissions.

Every day, my sons, you hear that divine wisdom in the word of God, proclaimed, preached, prayed, pondered. Every day you witness bread and wine become God’s substance, God’s substance become yours. Never allow your familiarity with these things to blind to their awesomeness or their demands. Avoid becoming like Jesus’ audience today, coarse, insensitive, demanding, addicted, but not to the holy, the truly wonderful. You want signs and wonders? Look every day to the Mass, God’s kind of miracle, not ours, the greatest sign of His self-giving love and grace. Then sing with the Psalmist, “From the rising of the sun to its setting, praised be the name of the Lord!” (Ps 112)