Matthew 12: 33-42 ‘Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good things, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person brings good things out of a good treasure, and the evil person brings evil things out of an evil treasure. I tell you, on the day of judgement you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.’ Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, ‘Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.’ But he answered them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was for three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here! The queen of the South will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here!
Judging by the shelves in many book shops, I’m not alone in enjoying detective stories. What makes a good detective remains the same: someone who can spot the one or two relevant pieces of information among a sea of irrelevance and confusion. Looking back from the end of the novel, hindsight can enable most of us to see the obvious thing that we missed because it was hidden in plain sight. In today’s story, Jesus’s opponents are asking for a clue, so that they can know the truth of what’s going on, but he doesn’t provide one because they are expected to figure it out for themselves. Of course, there will be a time when more than a clue is provided, when Jesus will spend three days and nights in the heart of earth, buried in the tomb. That’s to say even Jesus’s opponents won’t miss this clue! Jesus used the old stories of Jonah and the Queen of Sheba, who responded to God through a prophet and a king respectively, to remind his contemporaries that he is greater than both Jonah and Solomon. The first century detective would have been able to pick up the clue that Jesus was the messiah. From looking at what he was doing, healing all manner of people, God was indeed at work in Jesus. But Jesus turns this around (vv.35-37), and says that if they can’t see anything in him, they should at least be warned about their own behaviour: what they say will reveal what is in their hearts. Jesus suggests that his opponents can’t see the clues because they are too busy with their own agendas. Can we see the clues today? Are we too busy with our own agendas? Can we see the heart of what’s going on in the church and the world? Do we see the smaller clues, but miss the big and obvious ones?
A prayer adapted from Fred Kaan’s hymn:
Judge us, merciful God, and in your judgement free us. Set our feet in freedom’s open space; take us as far as your compassion wanders among the children of the human race=. Amen
The Revd Michael Hopkins, Minister of a group of Methodist and United Reformed Churches based around Farnham, Surrey, and Clerk of the URC General Assembly