Today’s Scripture Readings
Today’s readings prove once again that the human condition doesn’t seem to change. At least, I think we are often asking the same questions today that people did when Jesus walked with us physically.
In Galatians, Paul is writing to people who have converted to Christianity from paganism. He wonders why they want to put themselves under the law of Moses instead of Christian freedom. He argues that to put oneself under a set of laws is to become like a slave, while Jesus offers a freedom of one free born. Not a slave.
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus bemoans the fact that people want a sign, they want proof of who he is. They want proof that what is happening is the work of God. Jesus points to Jonah as the kind of sign they will receive. In Luke the reference to Jonah is about his going to Nineveh to announce the destruction of the city. After just one day the whole city and its King had a change of heart. Jesus is saying that the sign of God’s presence is a change of heart. This kind of change isn’t showy or often very public. It is not the kind of sign that you can seek out in advance for reassurance. It’s a personal lived reality.
The thread that connects these readings for me is that we so often want the comfort of external assurances. The Galatians after coming to believe in Jesus through Paul’s preaching have been talked to by people who were promoting a much more structured religion, Judaism had plenty of rules and regulations that marked whether a person was “clean or unclean.” There were lots of markers so you knew where you stood. Christianity at the time had next to no formal structure. People of all sorts came together, ate together, believed that Jesus opened a new relationship with God and would return to take them all to paradise. All they had was Paul’s word and each other. No Gospels, no bishops, just local leaders who probably had received the Spirit, i.e. who had a change of heart. It is apparent that for a good number of those people having a little more structure felt good. It felt reassuring.
Jesus is saying to the crowd don’t look for external assurances, look for a change of heart. Look for what the Spirit is doing among you. If the preaching of Jonah, a total stranger to Nineveh, can change the ways of a whole city and its King in a single day, what will happen if you believe in me?
So we have Jesus dismayed that people seem to be fixated on the externals. Paul trying to help the Galatians withstand a group that is preaching a Jewish form of Christianity that offers more assurances in the form of Jewish law.
So today, what assurances, what signs do we demand of God? Can we hear the story of the virgin birth or Sarah’s pregnancy with Isaac in her old age and recognize that it is God’s Spirit that gives birth to new life? What are we facing today? What challenges us? Do we think we have to muscle it through on our own? Where is it that the Spirit of God comes into play with everyday problems and losses? Are we mostly looking for outside assurances or could a change of heart be what is needed? Are we even thinking a change of heart might be what is needed? Perhaps we have to face it that if Jesus, the Son of God, was killed on a Cross by the people he wanted to help, a change of heart may be the most challenging choice of all.