In reading Matthew 12, there are two verses that have bothered my soul. Jesus goes around performing miracles and refuting critics who are plotting to kill him and he amazes the crowd constantly. In the midst of this, in verses 38 and 39, someone states, “Teacher, we want you to show us a sign.” Jesus responds quickly and doesn’t perform a miracle on demand. In paraphrase, he says, “Come on people, you’re being terrible, you’ve turned away from God. Your only sign will be the sign of the prophet Jonah.”
Jonah sat in the belly of a large sea creature for three days, and Jesus is foreshadowing his future death and resurrection. He refuses to give into being the entertainment and centerpiece of the story. Yes, Jesus is the Son of God. Yes, he has done many miracles. But he is about to do something so much more important than make y’all say, “Wow.” Lastly, he’s going to rise from the belly of death and open the doors to a greater work of our father. That’s big stuff.
I was once like a member of the crowd calling out for more signs and miracles. In fact, I still like to ask God to show me he is real. I have hardly ever received a moment like Gideon, who asked God to place dew on a fleece in the book of Judges in order to determine God’s purpose and agency. I’ve had to build a trust with Him over time, and have had to mature beyond the need for “mountaintop” experiences every Sunday and every retreat to remain engaged with God.
As a child, I thought of church and altar calls (a minister calling those who seek repentance and a filling of the holy spirit to come forward and receive God’s presence, forgiveness and otherworldly touch) as an end in religion, and I fully expected to see miracles to prove my faith.
I wanted to see with my own eyes the physical and scientific reality of the God who created the universe. I didn’t want to trust the testimony of the millennia, because I’m new, the world is new, and certainly things have changed. The spirit behind my curiosity was, “God, show me something now.” Much like a sports fan saying a prayer for his team to win the current game, I wanted to have a story that would change my life.
I didn’t understand that that story had already been lived out. And in this scene, returning to Matthew chapter 12, we have a crowd that wanted an immediate sign, and Jesus said, something bigger than you can imagine is coming. Have patience; just wait.
How many walked away that day saying, “Man, Jesus was a disappointment”? He called them bad people; he didn’t create matter from nothing to prove his claims as a prophet; and he passed the buck to a future event. How can he be trusted?
Today we have the story of the gospel, we have the testimony of the apostles recorded for our discernment, the traditions of the church passed down and, even better, the living holy spirit working among us and binding us as believers in Christ, who calls us into ministry as the people of God.
God’s love has already been shown, and yet we still want a further sign. We are simply impatient to wait to see what God is about to do.
In this season of Lent, perhaps we can take a breath and remember that our time is not God’s time. The miracle we are looking for may be soon to come — it may have already occurred and we refuse to trust in it. As a community of faith, let us spend time in prayer and contemplation, giving God a place to do something even better than what we are asking for.