Monday, February 14, 2011

"Stuck on Signs": Valentine's Day and Today's Daily Mass Gospel (Mark 8:11-13)

When we think of Valentine's Day as it is observed in the United States, we imagine many different signs of love that people exchange: an embrace, kiss, terms of endearment, words of warmth, affection and love, greeting cards, flowers, candy, a special meal, etc. All of these things serve as "signs" in the sense that they point to the reality of a shared relationship of mutual and reciprocal friendship or intimate partnership. As nice as these signs are in themselves, however, we know that they can ring relatively hollow if they don't point to something of depth, substance, spirit, and soul. No matter how delicious a box of chocolates might be in itself, it's all the more sweet when it serves as a sign of a love that has been carefully, patiently, and deliberately nurtured. In other words, the reality of the love that has been cultivated in a relationship is what makes for the full value of the sign and not vice versa.

In today's daily Mass Gospel reading, Jesus takes issue with some Pharisees who come to him asking for a sign. It would appear that they are seeking proof of Jesus' authority. However, Jesus rebuffs them with the words, "why does this generation seek a sign? Amen, I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation." Had Jesus simply acquiesced to the Pharisees request, the "sign" he gave likely would have been misinterpreted by the Pharisees. He probably would have simply been labeled a "miracle worker" and than been hemmed in by even larger numbers of persons seeking to be entertained and enthralled. But Jesus knew better. As Son of God (lover of God) and Son of Man (lover of humanity), Jesus no doubt had an acute intuition that it isn't the sign that makes the reality of love but the reality of love that makes the sign. In other words, prior to Jesus reaching out and healing persons or enacting another form of miracle (such as the multiplication of loaves and fishes), there had to be at least a rudimentary relationship of faith between himself and the subject (or subjects) of his graced outreach. Just as in the case of the signs associated with love and Valentine's Day, the signs that come to us from God will only be as robust as the depth, substance, spirit, and soul of the love that it points to. Pat, TOR