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In our daily lives, we can see many things that are paradoxical. Someone can say to you: be spontaneous! With this invitation, there are two possibilities. I can be spontaneous only if I disobey the person. Or I cannot be spontaneous if I accept the invitation. Or we might see a sign that says: ignore this sign. There are also two possibilities. In order to follow the message given by the sign, I must ignore the sign. And if I follow the sign, then I miss its message. In any event, a sign leads us to something else. A sign needs to be interpreted. We can interpret it correctly or we can misinterpret it. One thing, however, remains true: by its function, a sign conveys a message.
From sign to message
In today’s Gospel, people ask for a sign. And before giving his answer, Jesus qualifies the crowd as evil. Why does Jesus consider people who request a sign to be evil? Asking for a sign is a way of manipulating Jesus: you give me a sign and I will believe in you. Here, the sign is more important than its message and thus is emptied of its essential function. It is being used to manipulate another person. It is being used to manipulate the Son of Man, the divine presence on human earth.
From sign to person
For Jesus, Jonah is a sign and Solomon is also a sign. But they lead to something greater, or better still, to someone greater. The sign is accomplishing its function when it conveys its message. The sign becomes the sign when it ceases to be a sign. The sign is absorbed in the person to whom it points. Every sign disappears before Jesus, the prophet, who will be put to death but will be raised on the third day. Every sign vanishes before Jesus, the king, who will be raised on the cross in order to bring people from the ends of the earth to the heavenly Father.
From sign to attention
To recognize a sign, we need to be very attentive. We need to give up our habit of taking everything for granted. We need to be like the queen of the south, a visitor to Solomon’s kingdom. Being a foreigner is the best way of being attentive to every sign. I experienced this when I drove for the first time from Quebec to Worcester. I paid close attention to every single sign along the road. Don’t worry; I’m still careful about signs when I drive, even though I’m now familiar with the roads in the US!
Being attentive to different signs, however, is not enough. We also need to adopt the attitude of the Ninevites. They repented at the sign of Jonah. They changed their lives at the preaching of the prophet. They translated their understanding of a sign into a lifestyle transformation. And we are invited to do the same.
Prayer: God of providence, help us perceive your message through the different signs of our times.
Resolution: Be attentive to every sign on my way to work today and give it a spiritual meaning.