John 2:13-25
Sign Value by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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After Jesus throws the moneychangers from the temple, the Jews ask Him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” (Jn 2:18)  He responds by establishing the ultimate sign: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” (Jn 2:19)  Now, He was speaking about the temple of His body.  Thus He gives the ultimate sign – the Resurrection.  But the whole exchange raises a broader issue: Should we seek signs from God and is it a lack of faith to do so?  Some people seek a sign for everything.  Others think that faith means to live without signs of any sort.  What is the right approach?

In point of fact, Our Lord Himself sends mixed signals about signs.  On one hand, He seems to indulge our desire for signs.  John’s Gospel, for example, tells us of many miracles – “signs that He works.  Some come to believe because of them (cf. Jn 2:23; 6:2; 12:18) and others reject the signs and disbelieve Him.  (cf. Jn 6:26; 12:37)  At other times, however, Jesus rebukes the crowds because they want a sign: “An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign.” (Mt 12:38; cf. 16:4)

So, how should we understand the value of signs?  The solution lies not so much in the signs themselves as in our motive for seeking them.  In short, do we seek a sign from God in faith…or to put God to the test?

We find God very generous in providing signs to those who seek Him in faith.  It is reasonable for God to do so because He Himself planted within man a desire for God and therefore a desire for signs of Him.  Thus He indulges Gideon’s “putting him to the test” because Gideon seeks sincerely.  Jesus works miracles in order to answer the seeking and searching of those who desire to believe.

Yet to those of hardened hearts God shows Himself very severe.  He brought Pharaoh to ruin because he refused to heed the signs – the plagues – shown him.  The Israelites, even after having seen the parting of the Red Sea and being fed with manna, had the audacity to question God – and wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.

In the Gospels, Jesus acts strongly toward those who are closed to His signs.  We hear on one occasion that He does not perform miracles because of their lack of faith – in other words, because they were not receptive to His signs.  He scolds the crowd following Him after the multiplication of the loaves and fishes saying, “You are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.” (Jn 6:26)

Likewise for those who demand signs on their own terms – they are “an evil and unfaithful generation.”  Their insistence really is a petulant “Prove it!” to God.  Thus the seeking for a sign becomes putting God on trial.  Our desire for some signal from Him, if not guarded by humility, becomes a demand that He jump through the hoops we set up for Him.  Once we slip into that, we become like that other person who demanded: “If you are the Son of God.”

“What sign can you show us for doing this?”  they asked Him.  It would have been a fair question, if properly asked – that is, in faith.  Unfortunately, when He did provide the sign of resurrection, they still did not believe.  Let us, then, ask with humility and faith for signs of God’s power and goodness – so that we may believe all the more.

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