While reflecting on the Gospel reading from last Monday, I couldn’t help to think how much I can be like the Pharisees in the story. They came to see Jesus and demanded he give them a sign from Heaven as a test of who He was. Jesus gave a deep sigh and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? (Mark 8:11-13.)”
The Pharisees tested Jesus throughout the Gospels. They wanted signs to prove he was really God, asked tricky questions, and tried to prove Him wrong. But, why? Before this encounter, Jesus performed miracle after miracle: cleansing lepers, healing paralytics, raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead, and immediately before this Gospel, feeding four thousand people with a few fish. What more could they want from Him? The Pharisees were looking for a specific sign that their place of honor in Jewish society will be rewarded with a powerful position in Jesus’ kingdom. They wanted Jesus to give them the power and honor that they feel they deserve.
Like the Pharisees, I often want signs from Jesus, too. I make deals with him – if he does this, I’ll do that. If I pray he takes away some suffering or hardship from my life, I’ll try harder to be a better person. If I light a votive candle, my special request will be answered. If I go to Mass every week, my life will go smoothly. And if I do all these things, and nothing happens, if Jesus doesn’t give me a sign, well, maybe the Pharisees were right all along. Maybe Jesus really isn’t God after all.
But Jesus doesn’t work this way. Our relationship with Him can never be transactional. It can’t be used to bargain or make deals. Jesus, by virtue of being God, already has everything. So, there is nothing we can give God that he needs. But, we can give him what he wants – our love. Look at the people in the Gospels who don’t expect anything but receive signs from Jesus. They don’t go to him with a list of reasons why he should do what they ask of Him. They call out to Him. They push through the crowds, they drop everything to follow Him to a remote hillside without any idea of how they’ll find dinner. They have faith that God will give them a sign, and they are right. In return, they give Jesus their faith, hope, and love. The Pharisees demand a sign, and they leave empty-handed.
What do we ask of God? What deals do we try to make? May we pray this week to not seek signs, but for the faith to believe God really does have a plan for us, and his plan is good.