“Why does this generation seek a sign?” (Mark 8:11).
Today’s Gospel is from the eighth chapter of Mark. When the Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign from heaven to prove that he is from God, they have already witnessed great miracles of healing and exorcism. Why are they asking him for a sign?
The answer may be simply that they do not want to trust or believe in him. Along with the powerful teaching and wonders Jesus has shown them already, he has also challenged their understanding of God and called for a complete change of heart. No wonder they keep asking for more proof. They do not intend to surrender to such a conversion or to admit that Jesus is right about how they have distorted the teaching of Moses to serve their own purposes.
Another reason they will not get a sign is that faith is by definition acceptance without proof. If we have proof, we know something is true or that someone is trustworthy, so we don’t have to believe.
The scene invokes the time in the desert when the Hebrew people kept asking Moses for a sign that God was with them. The long desert journey was actually about testing their faith, so demanding signs showed they had failed to learn to trust God.
How often we also lose faith that God is with us. We want reassurance, some proof that God is going to answer our prayers or resolve some crisis. We say in effect, "Show me, then I will trust you. Give me some coincidence or unusual event. Rescue me from this difficult time. Then I will believe in you."
But it is precisely in times of darkness that we deepen out relationship with God. It is in times of desolation that we learn to wait for consolation. This is the message of so many of the psalms, like Psalm 119, assigned to today's readings: "It is good for me that I have been afficted, that I may learn your statutes." God keeps promises, and each time we trust that this is true we deepen our faith and grow in intimacy with God, who is always mysterious and beyond our control.