Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Signs, Signs, Everywhere There's Signs

Did you hear the one about the guy who took his girlfriend to the major league baseball game to propose to her? He arranged for the scoreboard operator to display a message in between the fourth and fifth innings “popping” the question. He sat with the ring in his pocket, holding it in his hand, waiting for the moment. In the top of the fourth, the girlfriend—uninterested in the game—called her mother on her cell phone. They talked about anything but baseball. As the top of the fourth became the bottom of the fourth, the boyfriend got nervous. He tapped her on the shoulder and said, “Hey, let’s watch the game.” She shook her head. One out. “Come on,” he pleaded, “you can talk to your mother in a little bit. Let’s watch the game.” “I don’t want to watch the game!” she exclaimed and turned her back on him. Two outs. “This is really important! Please, call your mom back in a few minutes. Right now, I need you to pay attention!” She gave him a look and then stood up and walked towards the concourse. He started to run after her, but the inning was over, and he looked up and saw the scoreboard flash his big question. It stayed up there for seven seconds, which felt like an eternity. Ten minutes later, she came back to her seat. He had his head in his hands. “You know, it’s the funniest thing,” she said, sitting down. “Mom said that when the last inning was over the TV camera got a shot of the scoreboard right before going to commercial, and she thought it had our names on it. Do you think there are two other people here named Mark and Jenny?”

In today's gospel lesson (Mark 8:11-26), The Pharisees ask Jesus, “Why won’t you give us a sign from heaven so that we can know you are who you say you are?” And Jesus sighed a long, loud, exasperated sigh. “Why bother?”

The disciples and Jesus get into the boat but discover that they have forget to take extra bread with them. Seizing on the opportunity this mishap provides, Jesus warns them to avoid the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod—a proverbial caution to take care not to fall into the trap of putting legalism before real righteousness. But the disciples, not better than the Pharisees, get confused and wonder why he’s talking to them about bread. And Jesus sighed a long, loud exasperated sign. “Why bother?”

Then, Mark takes them ashore, where Jesus is met by a blind man. Jesus works his healing miracle, but for some reason it comes in stages. At first, the man can only see vaguely: “I see people, but they look like trees walking.” Then Jesus tries again and his sight is restored fully. Why two stages? Was Jesus worn out from the long sea journey? Was he still frustrated with his disciples? Had he gotten a bad night’s sleep? Was he sick? Asking questions like that is just as bad as the disciples mistaking Jesus’ yeast-comment for a complaint about no bread or the Pharisees demanding a sign from Jesus. Really? Don’t you get it?

Sometimes we see things only halfway. Other times we see clearly. Jesus (and Mark, who tells the story this way) wanted to be sure that we understand that simply observing the sign isn’t enough. The sign must be understood. Those who marvel at the surface often miss the real point. Baskets of leftover bread? Yes, that’s a story about feeding thousands of people, but it’s also about much more than that. Jesus’ miracles? Yes, they’re expressions of power, but they’re also about much more than that. Jesus is showing us the way the world is supposed to be. God isn’t interested in one blind man receiving his sight—though that is part of it. God wants the whole world to see clearly.

With the eyes of our faith, what are we looking for? A sign? Yes, but more than that. If you’re waiting for God to part the clouds and speak his truth to you, you’ll get tired of waiting. It doesn’t work like that. Instead, you have to take what’s all around you and recognize what God is saying. 

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