Lectio Divina: Matthew 12:38-42
1) Opening prayer
be merciful to Your people.
Fill us with Your gifts
and make us always eager to serve You
in faith, hope and love.
You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel Reading - Matthew 12:38-42
Some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Jesus, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” He said to them in reply, “An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet. Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights. At the judgment, the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and there is something greater than Jonah here. At the judgment the queen of the south will arise with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and there is something greater than Solomon here.”
• Today’s Gospel presents to us a discussion between Jesus and the religious authority of the time. This time, the doctors of the law and the Pharisees are those who ask Jesus for a sign. Jesus had given many signs: He had cured the leper (Mt 8:1-4), the servant of the centurion (Mt 8:5-13), Peter’s mother-in-law (Mt 8:14-15), the sick and the possessed of the city (Mt 8:16), He had calmed down the storm (Mt 8:23-27), had cast out devils (Mt 8:28-34) and had worked many other miracles. The people seeing all these signs recognize in Jesus the Servant of Yahweh (Mt 8:17; 12:17-21). But the doctors and the Pharisees are not able to perceive the significance of so many signs which Jesus had given. They wanted something different.
• Matthew 12:38: The request for a sign made by the Pharisees and the doctors. The Pharisees arrived and said to Jesus, “Master, we should like to see a sign from You.” They want Jesus to make a sign for them, a miracle, and thus they will be able to verify and examine if Jesus is or is not the one who is sent by God according to what they imagined and expected. They wanted to be sure. They wanted to submit Jesus to their own criteria in such a way as to be able to place Him into their own Messianic frame. There is no openness in them for a possible conversation. They had understood nothing of all that Jesus had done.
• Mathew 12:39: Jesus’ response: the sign of Jonah. Jesus does not submit Himself to the request of the religious authority, because it is not sincere: “An evil and unfaithful generation that asks for a sign! The only sign that will be given them is the sign of the prophet Jonah.” These words constitute a very strong judgment regarding the doctors and the Pharisees. They evoke the oracle of Hosea who denounced the people, accusing them of being an unfaithful and adulterous spouse (Hos 2:4). The Gospel of Mark says that Jesus, upon hearing the request of the Pharisees, sighed profoundly (Mk 8:12), probably out of indignation and of sadness before such a great blindness: because it is not worthwhile to place a beautiful picture before people who do not want to open their eyes. Anyone who closes his eyes cannot see! The only sign which will be given to them is the sign of Jonah.
• Matthew 12:41: There is something greater than Jonah here. Jesus looks toward the future: “For as Jonah remained in the belly of the sea monster for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.” Therefore, the only sign will be Jesus’ resurrection, which will be prolonged in the resurrection of His followers. This is the sign which will be given to the doctors and the Pharisees in the future. They will be placed before the fact that Jesus, condemned to death by them and to death on the cross, will be raised from the dead, and He will continue, in many ways, to raise those who believe in Him. For example, He will raise them in the witness of the apostles, “persons without instruction” who will have had the courage to face authority announcing the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 4:13). What converts is witness, not miracles: “On Judgment day the men of Nineveh will appear against this generation and they will be its condemnation, because when Jonah preached they repented.” The people of Nineveh converted because of the witness of the preaching of Jonah, and they denounced the unbelief of the doctors and the Pharisees, because “Look, there is something greater than Jonah here.”
• Matthew 12:42: There is something greater than Solomon here. The reference to the conversion of the people of Nineveh is associated and makes one recall the episode of the Queen of the South. “On Judgment Day the Queen of the South will appear against this generation and be its condemnation, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon and look, there is something greater than Solomon here!” This reminder of the episode of the Queen of the South, who recognizes the wisdom of Solomon, indicates how the Bible was used at that time. By association, the principal rule of interpretation was the following: “The Bible is explained through the Bible.” Even now, this is one of the more important norms for the interpretation of the Bible, especially for the prayerful reading of the Word of God.
4) Personal questions
• To be converted means to be completely changed morally, but also to change one’s ideas and way of thinking. A moralist is one who changes behavior but keeps his way of thinking unaltered. Which one am I?
• In the on-going renewal of the Church today, am I a Pharisee who asks for a sign or am I like the people who recognize that this is the way wanted by God?
• Certain religions today see God in a different light and use it to justify killing and other injustices. Still others re-envision God and His Church as anything they want. In what ways can we discern the truth in terms of on-going renewal?
• Today, we use several types of analysis to interpret the bible, such as literary analysis, historical-criticism, contextual analysis, etc. How familiar are you with these methods and how do you feel they add to understanding the bible?
For further study
The encyclical of Pope Pius XII, Divino Afflante Spiritu, talks about methods of biblical interpretation in modern times and promotes biblical studies. Take time to read this to begin an exploration of the diverse ways we can learn from the bible. Papal documents are available at www.vatican.va
5) Concluding Prayer
Better Your faithful love than life itself;
my lips will praise You.
Thus I will bless You all my life,
in Your name lift up my hands. (Ps 63:3-4)