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! ‘When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting-place, but it finds none. Then it says, “I will return to my house from which I came.” When it comes, it finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So will it be also with this evil generation.’ While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, ‘Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’ But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’
Reflection Jesus isn’t holding back. His earlier warning about speaking carelessly is unheeded when he is asked for a sign to prove his authority. He critiques a whole generation by his withering words, citing examples from scripture of foreigners who saw the authentic power of God in prophets and kings. Yet his questioners are oblivious to what’s right in front of them. He blasts them for their good intentions which are inadequately followed through. It is not enough to get rid of an unclean spirit – there needs to be a purpose for the space that it has left behind. And then he transcends one of the most important truths of the culture into which he was born, by reinterpreting what family means. Not family by blood, but by shared commitment to a new community of loving action. How on earth did he get a reputation for being meek and mild?
This is Jesus at his most scathing, taking-no-prisoners, laser-minded critic of the “let’s do what we’ve always done” mealy-mouthed religious establishment around him. Terrifying for any of us entrusted with keeping the boat steady, keeping the show on the road, keeping the horses pacified. Translated into our time it extends beyond church too, as teenage prophets of climate emergency critique a whole generation which has allowed the crisis to develop. Nations living with the legacies of slavery speak of reparations because apologies based on good intentions are not enough to acknowledge the loss and damage caused by centuries of colonialism. And now, as holders of a diminishing worldview in the lands we inhabit, Christians are challenged to find allies in goodness and right action across the divides of faith and ideology.
Jesus asks nothing less of us.
Prayer At our best, Jesus, we would see with your clarity act with your certainty cut through the hypocrisy and never settle for less than the truth.
Bear with us when it’s hard to do this. Show us your Way and give us the courage to follow it. Amen
The Rev’d Fiona Thomas, freelance facilitator, and transitional minister with the Bellingham, Catford and Lee Green pastorate.