Some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Jesus, "Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you." But he answered them, "An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here! The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here!”
“Aaron threw down his staff before Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake” (Exodus 7:10). There has always been a keen demand for miracles. In the time of Jesus there was a belief that the Messianic Age would be heralded in with a shower of them, as in the time of Moses and Aaron. Rabbi Eliezer was said to have made rivers flow backwards….
The demand is just as keen today as then. Isn't the world wonderful enough as it is, without any contortions? Oscar Wilde, tongue in cheek, said of the Niagara Falls, “The wonder would be if the water didn’t fall!” It is about entertainment and spectacle, and the unspoken assumption is that the ordinary world is flat, with no depth, no power to bring the mind to God.
The demand for miracles and wonders is the mysticism of extraverts – or rather, it is the point from which extraverts begin. Everything has to be ‘out there’: apparitions, messages, strange occurrences and coincidences…. Highly rational people are often the most readily convinced by these. This is puzzling until you hit the key word: extravert. For a highly rational person a ‘miracle’ is new data in the lab. It was the highly rationalistic theologies that depended most heavily on them. Meanwhile there is a whole world untouched: the world of self-deception, projection, wishful thinking.... But that is outside the frame of rationality, so it is not acknowledged: it is not ‘objective’, so it is merely ‘irrational’. When it is acknowledged at all, it is seen only as wilful self-deception. But it is far more potent when it is not wilful. That is a place where the extravert person does not want to look.
“No sign will be given to this wicked generation,” Jesus said, “but the sign of Jonah!” Matthew interpreted this very fancifully, comparing the “three days and three nights” that Jesus was to spend in the tomb (factually inaccurate) with the three days and nights that Jonah spent in the whale’s belly. Luke does not make this comparison (11:29-32). The sign to the Ninevites was Jonah himself and his preaching. Applying this to himself, Jesus was saying, “You are seeking a sign – I, and my preaching, am God's sign!”
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