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.
Says who? Show us! More evidence!
There’s an understandable temptation to deny or dismiss evidence for facts that unsettle our presupposed or comfortable outlook. If we have believed something for a long time—say, that my views on religion and ways of leadership are best—then it can be disturbing to have that worldview challenged.
Such is the case with Jesus entering the scene. The religious leaders of his time, just like many religious leaders in our own, were comfortable with their way of doing things. Not everything the Pharisees did was bad nor were they “bad guys” as such. Instead, there were practices and presumptions that many exercised that burdened the average person, disadvantaged those at the margins of society, and mistook human will for the Will of God.
Jesus enters the scene with a new kind of authenticity and authority, which is observed frequently in the Gospel accounts. His way of being is rooted not in an “I say so” approach, but in the central commandment of love of God and neighbor. As John’s Gospel frequently attests, Jesus roots his preaching, teaching, and healing in the Will of the Father and not his own will.
The evidence that the religious leaders and others threatened by Jesus’s inclusive inauguration of the Kingdom of God is an absurd and misleading request. Jesus refuses to give “a sign” according to the demands of the skeptics and deniers because his very ministry is the sign. Elsewhere in the Gospels, when people are unsure of Jesus’s identity or purpose (including John the Baptist) and ask for confirmation, Jesus merely points to what can be seen in his words and deeds. Is that not enough proof?
As people of faith, what signs do we demand? Is there not enough proof for us? When the Gospel challenges our outlook and presuppositions, do we cry out for “more evidence” or demand from God some kind of sign? Or can we be open to the Spirit’s work in our lives, calling us to a greater love and care for one another? That is the sign that has already been given.