Heavenly Signs Are What You Make Them

Heavenly Sign
Photo credit: David Woo

Mark 8:11-13

The legalists came to start an argument with Jesus. To bait him they asked him to give them a heavenly sign. But Jesus, with a sigh of frustration, said, “Why do you need a sign? You’re not getting one, and that’s all there is to it.” And he left them, taking the next boat back across the sea.

They don’t need a sign, of course. There has already been plenty of evidence of what Jesus is up to. (Jesus has been calming storms, feeding multitudes, restoring people to new life and health. What more do they want?) It’s a matter of paying attention. And the significance of any action is a matter of how you see it.

And that’s the problem with “miracles.” You can’t really tell what they’re about without paying careful attention to the context, the history, the motivations of the people involved in them – the people who “perform” them, the people who report on them, and the people who hear about them second (or third, or fourth, etc.) hand. When a certain TV evangelist claims that a miracle has occurred and his TV tower in North Carolina has been spared by a sudden change in the track of a hurricane, that “miracle” is anything but for people whose life and limb are in jeopardy in Florida.

And that’s the legalists’ angle: if Jesus does something “miraculous” they can find a way to claim it’s demonic. It’s what they’ve been doing all along (see Mark 3:22). For them, there is no miracle. No sign will be given. Nothing will suffice to convince them to change their minds about Jesus.

On the flip side, though, you don’t really need a sign to discern what is right either. If your heart is in the right place. If you can hear what Jesus is saying, you don’t need to believe in miracles and you don’t need to witness any spectacular magic tricks to be convinced that calming storms, feeding multitudes, and restoring people to new life and health is something worth doing. And you don’t need to have any special experience or qualifications or divine intervention to start doing it.

3 thoughts on “Heavenly Signs Are What You Make Them”

  1. Love it, the last line in particular.

    Just don’t throw entirely out the sacred, the fact and eternal possibility of intervention, in proffering the affirmation that we are all called to do something good for others. Don’t wait for your desire to materialize while you do nothing. But by the same token, don’t deny entirely the mystery, the incalculable power, of love. Contemporary theologians seem to do one or the other: they either cling to the literal or reject it all together. What I’m saying is embrace the ambiguity, the literary, the mysterious, the sacred–the (dare I say it? miraculous) power of love.

    1. maracles are truly live changing and by telling them it helps the others to see and believe that God still is with us and answering are prayers.

  2. Christian, I agree there is something incalculable and if you like, miraculous, about the power of love. In this passage there is no miracle, and I think it’s precisely because there is so little love among the legalists.
    Sandy, you will know a miracle when you see it and are changed by it. (I’d even go so far as to say if you’re not changed by it, it wasn’t a miracle; it was just an extraordinary or unusual thing that happened.)
    Thanks, both of you, for your thoughtful responses.

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