I vividly remember walking along a country track one fine afternoon. I had left the Monastery earlier in the day and was now several hours into my walk, I had been going along with a fair degree of confidence that I’d taken all the right turns and was now indeed on the return portion of my journey. But the scenes before me were not confirming that reality, I was in unfamiliar territory and was beginning to doubt. I started looking for ‘signs’ to reassure me – any mileage indicators, town names etc., but none were forthcoming!
I muse that my experience is not an uncommon one. Indeed possibly my walk serves as a metaphor for one’s spiritual journey in this life. I think they are similar in some ways. Certainly one of the most tempting moments in any faith journey is to seek some kind of certainty or at least some proof that we are on the right track and that our continued trust in the way we are going is warranted.
One might be tempted to think that this might be the sense of the question put to Jesus in today’ gospel reading, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.”
However, let’s note that the question is put by those who are sceptical of, if not suspicious of Jesus and who doubt his ‘credentials’. Thus their question is not so much one that seeks to confirm a faith choice already made, but rather is a question that seeks of some kind of ‘proof’ that would allow them to fit Jesus into a mould that they imagine for him.
And in turn Jesus’ reply seems to expose not only their intentions – ‘an evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign’- but, in fact goes on to point out that some things cannot be proven in ways we’d like. For some of the more precious things in life, one has to look with a deeper sense, to seek evidence that is heart-based rather than that which merely satisfies a desire for knowledge and logic.
On my walk above, my ‘sign’ came not from anything written or the miraculous appearance of a district map along the side of the road, but from a fellow walker who passed by. I enquired as to where my road led and was thus assured of the route I had chosen.
Jesus seems to offer a similar ‘sign’ when asked. We must look beyond the obvious – to deeper experiences we have, or to foundational memories or to our community for the kinds of signs that guide one’s faith journey.
In this encounter with the Scribes and Pharisees Jesus recommends the example of Jonah to his listeners, and more importantly for us he foreshadows his own resurrection witness. It is to such a ‘sign’ that we too must look for reassurance and confidence as we journey along the road of life and faith. The resurrection is our ultimate sign and guiding light in life.
Of course, there wasn’t much ‘evidence’ left at the scene of the resurrection! An empty tomb and clothes lying around might not inspire faith. No, the sign of the resurrection was to be found in the witness and life of the disciples – those who felt the presence of the Lord with them who knew him in the community, in the Eucharist, in their meetings and in journeying together. Their lives had been completely turned around by this experience of the risen Jesus and now they were to become signs for others – by their witness, words, preaching and life example.
We inherit their witness and we too have benefitted by the witness of those who have gone before us, those who have imparted wisdom to us and those who have taught us by their lives of faith.
We can be like them, we too can be ‘signs’ of Jesus alive to all we meet.
Fr. Denis Travers, C.P., is a member of Holy Spirit Province, Australia. He currently serves on the General Council and is stationed in Rome.