Something in our human nature leads us to think of "signs" in terms of the miraculous and the extraordinary. On the mountain of Horeb, God appeared to Moses in the form of burning bush that would not be consumed. His gentle voice spoke words of compassion and salvation: "I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry… I know well what they are suffering. I have come down to rescue them and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey." (Ex 3:1-8a, 13-15)
The fire of Christ was just as spectacular. The Apostles witness a dazzling display of God's glory at the Transfiguration and are overwhelmed with excitement; but they are soon to experience the passion and death of Jesus. These same three will follow Jesus into the Garden of Gethsemane. They will see Him, fearful, saddened, pleading not to have to suffer and die. They will see Him on the cross, apparently abandoned by his Father and overcome by evil. This will betray all their hopes and dreams, and almost destroy their faith.
In every age, Jesus continues to invite people to have faith in Him as Son of God and Savior. His mission is always the same: to reveal the Father's love to the world. His message is always the same: to feed the hungry, help those in need, love those who hate you. His method is always the same: to give us clear and convincing signs leading us to believe in Him and His message.
During His public life, Jesus revealed His divinity in ordinary ways. He preached and lived by the simple law of the love of God and the love of neighbor. He taught us how to pray; He showed us the kingdom of God in wine and wheat, in the vineyard and the fisherman's net. He reached out to the sick, the sinner, the widow and the orphan, treating ordinary people with exquisite compassion. But that wasn't enough. His contemporaries demanded signs and wonders, miracles and marvels. Yet, even when they witnessed Him restoring sight to the blind, wholeness to lepers, and life to the dead, they did not believe. They looked for further "proof."
We, too, tend to keep looking for extraordinary signs, miracles, and visions. We are drawn to the magic of fool-proof novenas; we are fascinated by apparitions; every so often someone will resurrect the prophecies of Nostradamos; some folks may toy with astrology and others with the occult... always looking for "signs." We get discouraged so easily. We are so conscious of our limitations, our failures, our broken promises. We get so wrapped up in ourselves that we forget completely the flame of life-giving grace that is within us. We are so busy trying to overcome our bad habits, trying to pray better, trying to be more thoughtful of others, that we almost shut God out, and almost extinguish the transforming fire of His grace and goodness.
Jesus is very realistic about life in this world. He knows that there will always be a mixture of good and evil, of justice and injustice, of the normal and the abnormal. He warns us not to be smug and self-righteous. He reminds us that we have no right to sit in judgment on the lives of others. He invites us to be tolerant, patient, compassionate - and always forgiving and healing.
Lent is a very good time for us to stop concentrating on our own measly efforts and allow the power of the Spirit of Jesus to leap into the forefront. This calls for quiet, contemplative prayer time... not prayers filled with routine words, or meditations on our own sinfulness. This is a time to take a serious look at our own commitment to the Gospel message of peace and justice. This is a time to revel in the bountiful beauty of God's love for us - the gift of Jesus, the gift of faith, the gift of our baptism, the gift of the church, the gift of the faith-community to which we belong. It is time to listen.
To believe in Jesus does not guarantee our living forever on his earth. It does not mean that our mortal life is going to be extended indefinitely. It does not mean that we are to be spared pain, sickness and death. But it does mean that we are guaranteed new life, a totally different kind of life, a life beyond time and space, a life without pain, suffering or tears.
The constant mystery of dying and rising that we discern in all of nature - the daily sunrise and sunset, the miracle of a field of golden grain rising out of the earth, the birth of a baby, the ongoing victory of the recovering alcoholic… all of these are but faint signs of what God has prepared for those who love Him.
During the Lenten season, we are called to deeper faith. We are invited to gaze again at the image of Christ crucified, and find in that image the only sign we need. During these sacred days, Jesus leads us to a newer intimacy with Him and with the mystery of His suffering, death and resurrection.
The Gospel encourages us today, no matter what we have been told about ourselves, to see the spark of divinity in us, to imagine the possibilities, to open ourselves to others and the possibility of helping to create a better world.