1st Reading: Jonah 3:1-10
Psalm: 51:3-4, 12-13, 18-19
Gospel: Luke 11:29-32
How often do we miss the obvious signs that are right in front of us? Usually, if someone is giving you signs but you don’t see them, you can’t blame anyone but yourself. If you’re expressing your opinion of the boss to a coworker, and your coworker is giving you a sign to cut it out, you can only blame yourself when the boss walks up behind you and overhears what you think of him. Not catching clues, not reading signs, can get you into trouble or at the very least leave you surprised.
By now you have heard that Pope Benedict is stepping down at the end of this month from his position as Pope. If we had been paying attention, he had said in interviews both before and after he was elected Pope that he thought it could be a good idea for a Pope to resign if he didn’t feel he was the right man for the job anymore. And then, back in 2009, he left his pallium, a symbol of his office as bishop of Rome, at the grave of Celestine V, the last Pope who resigned from his office. We didn’t think much of these statements or these actions back then, we were blind to the signs the Pope was giving us, but now that he has announced his resignation, we can see in these words and actions significant signs. We didn’t see the signs.
The Jews of Jesus’ day were asking for a sign from Jesus, because apparently the healings, the exorcisms, the miracle cures weren’t enough. Several verses before our passage here, where the crowds accused him of casting out the devil by the power of the devil, they had asked for a sign from heaven to test him. Jesus had already explained how a house divided against itself will fall, so logically he couldn’t be from the devil, and now he answers those who were asking for a sign, and he answers by pointing them back to the prophet Jonah.
Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites when God sent him there, and the Ninevites repented when they saw this sign. They recognized the presence of God in the words of Jonah, and they conformed their lives to those words. At a sign from God, small though it was, they completely changed their ways.
The queen of the south is a story we hear about from when Solomon was king. She probably came from modern day Saudi Arabia, so south of Israel, but she came up to Israel to listen to Solomon, who was the wisest man in all the world. At the beginning of Solomon’s reign, he had asked for wisdom from God. Not riches, not power, not honor, but wisdom. And since he asked for such a good thing, God gave him riches, power and honor along with wisdom. And remember, in that worldview, wealth was a sign of God’s blessing. So people came from far and wide, including our queen of the south that Jesus mentions, to listen to Solomon. They recognized where God was operating in their midst
Jesus uses these two examples, the Ninevites and the queen of the south, to try to make his audience see just how blind they are being. The Ninevites and the queen of the south only had signs, they had God working through men, but Jesus’ audience had God himself-the fulfillment of all their hope-in their very midst, and they didn’t see it. This generation had something better than Jonah, better than Solomon, and they didn’t see it.
Jesus has harsh words for this generation when he sees their rejection of him. His opening line of this section of the discourse is “This generation is an evil generation.” Obviously, Jesus was not trained in public relations, but only came to do the will of his Father, and the will of his Father was to call his people to repentance.
It’s easy for us to rise up with the men of Nineveh, and rise up with the queen of the south, and condemn the people of Jesus’ day who didn’t recognize who Jesus was, because we have the advantage of hindsight. We can look back and see plain as day that Jesus is the long awaited messiah. But don’t think for one second that it is only first century Israel that is blind to the presence of God among them.
Where is Jesus present to us that we miss him? Do we ask for signs from God while ignoring the signs he puts in our life? God is present in our lives, in a million subtle ways that we don’t recognize. He is constantly present, trying to break through our blindness. One of the hallmarks of the saints is that they can recognize God’s hand in every aspect of their lives, both the good and the bad. But we can’t recognize God’s presence by looking for him really hard. No, it is only by the grace of God that we can see his action in our lives, so today, pray that God might show you where he is working in your life.
And as you pray with that, I want to point you in one huge direction to a place where he is present to us, and that is in the sacraments, but most especially here in the Eucharist. This Eucharist is the reality of God present among us. Just like the Jesus who walked and talked 2000 years ago, we have something greater than Solomon and greater than Jonah here. The gospel today forces us to ask ourselves, do we ever receive the Eucharist as a matter of habit, and make ourselves blind to the awesome love that it actually is? Do we ever receive the Eucharist, and yet wonder where God is in our lives?
So today, and every day, pay special attention to the words of the Eucharistic Prayer, and recollect yourself in a very special and intentional way before you come forward to receive communion. Ask for the grace to be as aware as possible of the power of God at work in you. In this season of Lent, as we commit to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we are more disposed to recognize the presence of God, so Lent is an especially good time to focus on where God is operating in our lives. Resolve from here to the end of Lent to focus on God’s presence, especially in the Eucharist so that when Easter morning comes, and we see the empty tomb, we can see that as the sign that our salvation has been won.