I learned a new way to make pancakes yesterday. The kids like pancakes for dinner. But it’s such a drag – standing by the stove and watching those circles of batter brown up. Pour, watch, flip, watch, take them off, pour some more, watch, flip, watch – and on and on until I’ve made enough pancakes for the six people in our family. Plus Max the Beagle, who also likes pancakes.
As I was getting everything ready, I said to Mary, “I wish I could just throw all the batter into a pan and bake it all at once.” And she said without hesitation, “You can, no problem.”
I didn’t know this could be done! (Granted, I am not a sophisticated cook.) I dumped all the batter into a large cake sheet pan and baked it in the oven for 12 minutes. It was a life-changer! I’m never going back! No more standing by the stove. No more losing focus and burning some pancakes and undercooking others. In that moment, I felt like a new man. The phrase – “Dad, let’s have pancakes for dinner” – will never be the same.
In our Gospel of Matthew reading today – chapter 16 – the Pharisees and Sadducees asked Jesus for “a sign from heaven.” They wanted to know whether Jesus was approved by God. They wanted to know whether he had a special status in creation.
Jesus responded by telling them that although they could interpret some things – the coming weather, for instance – they couldn’t properly interpret a sign from heaven, or the “signs of the times.”
Jesus called the Pharisees and Sadducees an evil and adulterous generation. To be adulterous is to enter into a covenant and then be unfaithful to the terms of that covenant. We often think about this in terms of unfaithful spouses in a marriage. To cheat on your spouse is to be adulterous.
The Pharisees and Sadducees claimed they were married, connected, bound to God’s Law. But Jesus said they were adulterous. They weren’t faithful to the Law, to God’s way of living. As we read the gospels, we come to see the Pharisees and Sadducees really were “married” to their authority and to the status quo.
Jesus said the only sign they would be given was the “sign of Jonah.” Jonah was a prophet who spent three days in the belly of a big fish before he was spit out. Jesus would spend three days dead, in the belly of death, before he rose again.
That particular sign changes everything for the Pharisees and Sadducees. That sign, if accepted, would have upset everything in their lives – right down to what they did for a living. Jesus was a fulfillment of the Law that the Pharisees and Sadducees claimed to be so attached, and so their allegiance would have needed to switch over to him. Their worship of God would have been directed in new ways, and it primarily would have consisted of taking up their crosses and following Jesus.
That’s the only sign Jesus would give them – his death and resurrection.
I think Jesus knew the Pharisees and Sadducees didn’t really want a sign. They just wanted to be left unthreatened by this carpenter from Nazareth. I think they wanted the people to get over their excitement about Jesus and return to normal Jewish life. And, of course, the Pharisees and Sadducees didn’t want the people’s infatuation with Jesus to cause unnecessary trouble with the Romans. That wouldn’t end well.
Do we really want our lives to be upended by Jesus Christ? It’s true that to accept him means that every facet of our lives must change. Jesus is the ultimate life-changer.
We still do our jobs, but we do them differently – with more unconditional love toward those around us, including our co-workers and competitors. We still love our family members and friends, but we care for them with a knowledge that our ultimate allegiance is to Christ and his church. We still share with our neighbors and communities, but we do this with a fearlessness that our ultimate judge is not humanity but God.
Also, to accept the sign of Jonah is to live out the truth that we no longer have death or the world to fear (Matthew 10:28). That’s an interesting reality today, when the world has so much in it right now that seems threatening and when so many people are stricken with deep fears of sickness, death, and economic ruin.
If we refuse to be an “adulterous generation” and to follow Jesus by laying down our lives, how do we faithfully navigate a world like this?