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Two things were contrasted here, and it took me some serious contemplation time to figure out what they were. There was a “sign” and there was a “sign of Jonah.” I’m going to talk more about each of these in a few minutes, but just from the context, you figure out that these are opposites. So, the first thing I did was to figure out, what is this sign of Jonah. Now, I had a really big clue, in that Jonah has his own book, so I went back and I read through that. Everybody remembers the miracle of the Joanh living in the belly of the fish at the beginning, so I’m going to bypass that. The climax of the book comes in Chapter 3, and here’s where the action is:
What you see here is that Jonah is all about repentance. Repentance is, by definition, something you can’t really express - you have to live it to understand what it means to be heading out as far away from Ninevah as you can get, and then be literally turned 180?. If you just watch it, you don’t understand it - it’s something that has to be personal.
Now, contrast this with “a sign.” Remember, the context of this was a bunch of Pharisees asking Jesus to essentially do a magic trick. As an aside, I think about King Herod asking the same thing right before the Crucifixion - and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s characterization of that in Jesus Christ Superstar. He’s pretty blatant about telling Jesus to do some trick and play Herod’s fool, but Jesus is no fool. He just stays quiet. As the song goes on, it’s Herod who starts becoming more and more the clown, over-the-top. Jesus is not one to be dictated to, nor, as we learned last week, does he do tricks for our personal enjoyment. If he performs a miracle - and make no mistake, we’re going to find out in a few minutes that he does perform a miracle here - he has a point he wants to prove.
You know, Jesus was pretty cutting to the same Pharisees. In Matthew, Hesus asks them about John the Baptist:
7 “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10This is the one about whom it is written,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’
Clearly, Jesus is not entirely happy with people who just want to see things. He’s more interested in people being transformed.
You know, if we were Episcopalians, I’d probably be called a vicar - a substitute - because I would be a substitute for Christ. You could just as easily use the word “Sign” because a sign is merely a substitute for something that points you back to the original. But, we have another related word - “vicarious” meaning you live your life through substitutes. The difference between a “Sign” and the “Sign of Jonah” boils down to one thing: whether you want to live vicariously through something that just points to something else or participate in the thing itself.
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