Sunday, July 17, 2016


Homily for July 18th, 2016: Matthew 12:38-42.  

          “An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign,” Jesus says. He is referring to the repeated demand of his contemporaries for a miracle so dramatic that it will force them to believe. But belief cannot be forced any more than love can be forced. Jesus’ miracles confirm the faith of those who already believe. They do not compel belief in those whose hearts and minds are closed to him and his message.

          Jesus then mentions two such confirming signs: Jonah, and the so-called queen of the south, Sheba. The book Jonah is fiction, not history. Like much great fiction, notably Jesus’ parables and Shakespeare’s plays, Jonah is the vehicle for important truth about God, humanity, and life. The sign of Jonah is not his survival in the belly of the great fish. It is rather the immediate repentance of the people of Nineveh – Gentiles without the gift of God’s law – in response to Jonah’s preaching. Jesus contrasts the swift response of the Ninevites to Jonah’s preaching with the failure of so many of his own people to respond to his message.

          The sign of Queen Sheba is different, though in one respect the same. Like Jonah, she came from afar, motivated however not by a divine command, but by the report that King Solomon possessed wisdom greater than that of all other rulers or sages. “There is something greater than Solomon here,” Jesus says. Who is the one greater than Solomon? Jesus! He not merely possesses wisdom: Jesus is wisdom personified. Similarly the statement that “there is something greater than Jonah here” means that Jesus’ message is more compelling than Jonah’s -- yet the people still do not respond. Jesus sums up by saying that the Ninevites and Queen Sheba showed a readiness to respond which his own people do not.

Are we responding? “I have come,” Jesus says in John’s gospel, “that they may have life, and have it to the full” (10:10). Are we embracing Jesus’ offer of life to the full? Or do we think of our faith as observing enough of the Church’s complicated rules and regulations to be able, on Judgment Day, to squeeze our way into heaven?

          Think about that. Better – pray about it.