Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs

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The scribes and Pharisees constantly were demanding that Jesus give them a "sign" that he was the Son of God.  Somehow, seeing Jesus restore sight to the blind, making the lame walk and raising the dead back to life weren't enough to make them believe His claim of divinity.  Despite performing numerous miracles, Jesus's response was always the same though -- no sign will be given, except His coming death and resurrection.  The Gospels recount several instances of this:

"Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, '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."  (Matthew 12:38-40; see also 16:4)

"While still more people gathered in the crowd, he said to them, "This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah."  (Luke 11:29; see also 11:16)

"At this the Jews answered and said to him, 'What sign can you show us for doing this?'  Jesus answered and said to them, 'Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up."  (John 2:18-19).

Almost two thousand years later, nothing has changed.  Like the scribes and Pharisees then, we often demand signs or some sort of end-all, be-all proof that Jesus was who He claimed to be.  Several months ago, I had a secular-progressive friend (and fallen-away Catholic) say to me "I just wish God left more definitive evidence that he exists."  My response was rhetorical and went something like: "You mean Jesus coming back to life three days after being tortured to death isn't enough evidence?"  I then expounded on that point, explaining how Jesus's resurrection is the only plausible explanation for the sudden rise and vast expansion of Christianity over most of the known world by the end of the first century, despite the fact that it was illegal and punishable by death.

St. Augustine beautifully explains what Jesus's resurrection means for us in this context:  "Out of his mercy . . . He [did not] hide from us His truth.  The Truth, clad in flesh, came to us and healed through His flesh the inner eye of our heart, that afterward we might be able to see Him face to face."

We have a great advantage over the scribes and Pharisees who demanded a sign during Jesus's earthly ministry.  Whereas Jesus merely spoke to them about the ultimate sign of his coming passion, death and resurrection in foreshadowing, symbolic language (i.e. being in the "heart of the earth for three days and three nights" and raising the "temple" three days after being destroyed), for us, His resurrection and victory over sin and death is a reality that allows us to "see Him face to face."

Once we accept the reality of Christ's passion, death and resurrection, ask His forgiveness, and accept His mercy, "signs" of His divinity and God's existence begin to pop up all around us.  Driving home from work one evening last week, I looked up into the sky and noticed the sun breaking through the clouds in a way I had never seen before.  Although it was almost completely overcast, small breaks in the clouds had allowed multiple individual rays to beam down all the way to the ground.  It truly was one of the most beautiful, majestic things I have ever seen.  I immediately realized that I was looking at a small piece of heaven, and that only a God who would take flesh and die in order to redeem humanity could (and would) create such beauty.

I find that such occurrences - "signs" -  happen almost every day: the smile of my four month old son, the sound of the rain and thunder during a stormy night, a humming bird getting nectar from a flower on my back porch, the quiet stillness of a candle flame lit early in the morning.  These signs, and so many others, remind me daily of God's love.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church ("CCC") states this perfectly:

"As a being at once body and spirit, man expresses and perceives spiritual realities through physical signs and symbols.  God speaks to man through the visible creation.  The material cosmos is so presented to man's intelligence that he can read there traces of its Creator.  Light and darkness, wind and fire, water and earth, the tree and its fruit speak of God and symbolize both his greatness and his nearness."  (CCC 1146 - 1147)

When I'm cooperating with God's grace, maintaining a relationship with Him through prayer, and keeping His commandments, I see God in the most simple things of creation.  He's there, speaking to me, reminding me of His constant presence.  The signs are everywhere.  But in times when my heart and intellect are darkened by sin; when I turn my back on God's love and mercy, the signs seem to disappear.  Instead of seeing God in everything, I -- by my own choice -- see Him in nothing.  In fact, like Adam and Eve after the fall, I try to hide from God, desperately hoping that he won't see me in my nakedness.  Perhaps that is why the scribes and Pharisees were unable to recognize any signs and miracles Jesus performed -- their hearts simply were too hardened to accept them.

It is during those dark times, however, that we must turn back to the ultimate sign -- Jesus's passion, death and resurrection -- for that likely is the only sign we will be able to recognize.  And we have but to ask for His mercy, for as Jesus tell us "[a]sk and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you."  (Matthew 7:7)  So if you are having trouble recognizing God's presence, seeing His majesty in creation, feeling His love in your everyday life, don't demand, as did the scribes and Pharisees, that He give you a sign.  Instead, start over from the beginning and remember the only sign that matters.  In the words of St. Josemaria Escriva, "[m]ay you seek Christ, may you find Christ, may you love Christ.  These are three very distinct steps.  Have you at least tried to live the first one?"

 

 

 

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