What Sign Do You Seek?

The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with Jesus,
seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him.
He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said,
“Why does this generation seek a sign?
Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”
Then he left them, got into the boat again,
and went off to the other shore.
(Mark 8:11-13)

Scripture Study

8:11 The approach of the Pharisees stands in stark contrast to the three previous episodes—the exorcism of the Syrophoenician child, the healing of the deaf-mute, and the feeding of the four thousand—in which people approach Jesus to receive his love and compassion. The Pharisees, instead, come forward to argue and to test him by demanding a sign from heaven, that is, a validating miracle. Since Jesus has up to this point been performing one miracle after another, such a demand can be rooted only in stubborn perversity, the refusal to open their hearts to the testimony of his deeds of mercy.

8:12–13 Jesus sighs from the depth of his spirit, expressing his distress at their hardness of heart (see 3:5). This generation again recalls the “evil generation” of Israelites who refused to trust God even after witnessing all that he had done in Egypt, and who were therefore denied entrance to the promised land (Deut 1:35; see Ps 95:8–10). Like them, Jesus’ opponents are motivated not by a sincere desire for truth but by a refusal to relate to God on God’s own terms. To insist on irrefutable evidence is really a demand for control, as if to say: “Force us to believe, so that we will not have to trust you or change our hearts.” But faith that is compelled is not faith at all. Jesus’ emphatic preface Amen, I say to you (see Mark 3:28) gives a special weight to what he is about to say: No sign will be given to this generation—that is, no sign that will satisfy their criteria for proof. His miracles and deeds of mercy will invite faith, but not coerce it. For those who reject his offer, who choose to be “those outside” (see 4:11), he can only walk away.

This painful exchange marks the end of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. From now on his focus will be on training his disciples in preparation for the culminating events of his life, and he will return to Galilee only once, in secret (9:30).

Scripture Reflection

Demands for proof of religious claims are as strident today as they were among Jesus’ contemporaries. Today there are a host of books, articles, and programs claiming to refute Christian beliefs simply by showing that they cannot be proven according to empirical scientific criteria. But such attempts reveal only a false and truncated view of reality—as if the only things that are real are those that can be visibly observed and measured.

Pope Benedict comments, “There can be a thousand rational objections—not only in Jesus’ generation, but throughout all generations, and today maybe more than ever. For we have developed a concept of reality that excludes reality’s translucence to God. The only thing that counts is what can be experimentally proven. [But] God cannot be constrained into experimentation.” Such demands for proof can be an excuse to avoid what God reveals of himself, because “knowledge of God always lays claim to the whole person.”

– Mary Healy

May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.


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