When the crowds were increasing, Jesus began to say, ‘This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation. The queen of the South will rise at the judgement with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here! The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!’
We live in an age that prides itself on its scepticism. We like to think that we are not easily ‘taken in’. We often hear people say something like: No one is going to get one over on me! But, they do. The distance we create between ourselves and others so often works against us. Just look at how many people are taken in by telephone and internet fraudsters. People lose vast amounts of money to such plausible people … we are told that at the present £4million per day is stolen by such people in the UK alone. We live in an age that prides itself on its scepticism, but we are not very good at spotting the signs and we fall into the trap time and time again.
This is the picture that is painted for us in today’s reading. The crowds gathered around Jesus because they wanted to see his signs of power and his works of miraculous healing. But where was their faith? In the same way that stage magicians and those who create cinematic special effects leave us in a state of open-mouthed wonder, so the crowds gathered around Jesus. We know there is trickery involved in that which amazes us; those first-century crowds believed the same. But, of course, Jesus was not working magic tricks; it was definitely not a case of the swiftness of the hand deceiving the eye. Jesus was the genuine article. Jesus was the Son of God come down to earth bringing all that divine power with him.
This was not the first time in which the Jewish people backed their earthly wisdom ahead of the divine wisdom spoken through God’s messengers. To point out their mistake Jesus quoted the story of Jonah. Jonah was sent to the city of Nineveh, a city renowned for the way it had distanced itself from God. Jonah went to Nineveh as God’s messenger. Jonah warned the people of Nineveh of the terrible fate that awaited them if they did not repent and turn back to God. Despite Jonah’s uncertainty, Jonah’s scepticism, the people of Nineveh did repent, thus averting their fate.
Jesus quoted the well-known story of Jonah as a warning. Jesus was warning us to set aside all that ‘worldly wisdom’ and trust him as he showed us the way that would bring us closer to God, and would fit us for eternal life.
Jesus’ message was not just for the growing crowds that gathered to see him work his ‘magic’. Jesus’ message is for us as well. Sometimes we are sceptical because of the simplicity of Jesus’ message … ‘Surely it cannot be as simple as that!’ Of course, the words of Jesus’ message are simple, but living out that message in this sceptical world can be very difficult indeed. Let us pray that we might find the strength to remain faithful and true as we live that message of love and service to all.