As the crowds increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation. – Luke 11:29-30
As the crowds increased…
Jesus was well along in his earthly ministry now. He had many followers and disciples. And, everywhere he went, he attracted a crowd. These crowds were increasing in size. There were various reasons that the crowds were increasing; as various as the people in the crowd itself. Some were curious. Some were desperate. Some came with a friend. Some were dragged by a friend. Literally. See Luke 5:18 And some came to test him.
After Jesus healed a man who couldn’t speak, some of the crowd kept asking for more and greater miracles. They wanted a “sign”. They were looking for something spectacular. They wanted a sign that would distinguish Jesus from other teachers and preachers. They also wanted a sign that would distinguish them from other generations; something that made them special.
As much as we like to fit in and feel like we belong, we equally want to feel special and important. There is nothing wrong with wanting to feel special. It’s normal. It’s part of being human. And the crowds following Jesus wanted the same things you and I do. They wanted to know they mattered to other people and especially to God.
At first glance, Jesus’ response sounds harsh. He identifies them as a “wicked generation”. We don’t really use that word today unless we’re talking about people like Adolph Hitler or serial killers. The word Jesus uses can be used to describe one’s moral character. But it is also used to describe an experience. Not “wicked good”, but “wicked bad”. As in a people who were feeling harassed and hard-pressed. It was a time of great hardship and the people felt helpless and hopeless.
I’ve been there. I’ve felt helpless and hopeless. And, in those times, I can remember crying out to God and asking Him for a sign that everything was going to be alright. Do you ever find yourself begging God to send you a sign? Do you wish He would send you a postcard in the mail telling you it’s going to be alright? I mean, couldn’t he just tweet something to let us know he’s got it under control? The people in that crowd felt like that too.
And Jesus understood.
He wasn’t condemning them for asking for a sign. He was showing them that he was the sign they were asking for. Jesus told them that “the Son of Man will be your sign”. You sort of need to know the Jonah story to be able to follow along. It’s okay if you don’t know the story. Jonah was a prophet from a long time ago who was swallowed by a giant fish. The story says that Jonah was in the belly of the fish for 3 days before he was spat up on the shore. And, just like Jonah, the Son of Man (Jesus) would also be in the belly of the earth for 3 days before he was raised from the dead. And this was the only sign that they needed.
Jesus came as the sign that they were special and important to God. He came so that all of us would know we are special and important to God. Of all the signs God could send, Jesus is the greatest of all. Jesus is God in the flesh. He walked among us to love us and teach us how to love. He came to remind us we are special and important because we are created in the image of God. And He came to take away our shame that we would no longer be people who feel harassed. Rather we would be people who know we have a purpose in this world.
Happy Lent and Happy Easter!
A year ago, my cousin (by marriage) died. She was thirty-one and died from complications with Cystic Fibrosis. It was long, painful, and arduous at the end. And she was a hero! Maggie wrote her own eulogy to be read at her memorial. It was hilarious and poignant and profound. I kept thinking that I hope it becomes a trend; this writing your own eulogy thing. And I knew her memory would live on.
Death seems so final. A year ago we were wrestling with much grief. You can read about it here. But, today, in my meditations, I was struck by how quickly memories can fade. I want to believe in the resurrection, and most days I do. But can I make a confession? Some days I cling to this belief with a mighty grip like a child holding tightly to her mama in a crowd. There are days when fear creeps in and along with it doubt, whispering haunting words to my soul.
If we were honest, then we would admit that we wonder, we fear that we will be forgotten. We fear that we will all be forgotten. Is it not the reason we work so hard? We desperately want to leave a mark on the world in hopes they will remember and never forget.
I recently officiated a funeral for some friends. They were friends who buried their child way too soon. The greatest fear when we bury a loved one is that they lived in vain. We fear that others will forget while we sit and remember. Could it be this is why senior adults tell so many stories? Is it fear that if we forget, then maybe no one else will remember either? And, if we cannot remember, then the person might be lost forever.
I have discovered that what we feel colors so much of what we believe. It shapes our perspective of the world and how we perceive it. In my own life, I am working to line up what I feel with what I know to be true. It involves meditating and visualizing the truth I see in scripture. It’s not enough to know the truth in our heads. We must visualize it and let it move to our hearts.
When I begin to wrestle with these doubts, I find myself drawn to the Gospels. I take comfort in Jesus as he also wrestled with Satan. But I also take comfort in what he did and said. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is on the cross hanging between two thieves. He declares to the one next to him that “today, you will be with me in paradise”. And that brings me hope when I start to forget.
I don’t know where paradise is or what it looks like, but Jesus is there and I am with him. In paradise, I am with Jesus. I am not alone and I am not forgotten. In paradise, my loved ones are not alone and they are not forgotten. Even if everyone else forgets, even if you forget or I forget, they are remembered. And they are not forgotten.
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.”
It was 1987 and I was a junior in high school. It was the era of big hair, cola wars, and gas for $ 0.99 a gallon (not kidding). I had a part-time job at a fast-food chain, Hardees. FTR, best biscuits anywhere. Also, our children’s meals came with mini Pound Puppies. Google it.
It was Christmas time and our manager decided we needed to do some team building. I don’t know how old he was…maybe 30. And we were teenagers. Apparently, he viewed us as corporate executives or perhaps he was binge-reading Zig Ziglar at the time. So he took us bowling. The bowling alley was next door to our store. I guess it eliminated the need for permission slips. But, then again, it was 1987. I’m not sure we even had permission slips in those days.
During the party, one of our fellow employees locked herself in the bathroom. My manager asked me to check on her and see if she was alright. I still remember him asking me to do this and wondered why me. There were other female employees. Some were even moms who presumably would be better at this than a scrawny 17-year-old.
My friend, Mary*, was on the floor of one of the stalls. I think she may have vomited and she clearly had been drinking. Mary was only a year older than me, but she lived a tough life. She never shared details, but somehow I knew her home life was angry, chaotic, and miserable. Today, I recognize the signs of abuse in her, but what did I know then? We were kids trying to make it to graduation.
I crouched down next to Mary. We did not attend the same high school, but I knew she was probably one of the “cool girls”. She was thin and blonde and beautiful, and she scared the crap out of me. But, sitting on that floor, Mary seemed hopeless.
“I had an abortion today”, Mary told me.
And then she started to cry. The rest of our conversation was minimal. Mostly we sat there as she tried to pull herself together. Then, Mary wiped her tears, got up from the bathroom floor, and went bowling. We never talked about it again.
I have thought about Mary so many times over the years. Did she marry her boyfriend? Does she have a career or children or both? Did she find healing from whatever scars childhood trauma left on her soul?
We both left Hardees soon after that encounter in the bathroom. I saw her a couple of years later when I was working at a bank. Mary and her boyfriend came through my drive-thru lane. I waved and smiled saying hello through the speaker. She gave a half-smile, waved, and turned away. Then they drove off.
So many people think abortion is the problem. Some will read this post and point to Mary’s obvious signs of depression as a response to her abortion. But abortion is not the problem. It is a symptom. The problem is hopelessness. My friend was hopeless and desperate. And desperate people do desperate things. As a minister, I have seen hopelessness play out in people’s lives in many ways. Desperate people do desperate things which include, but are not limited to:
- have an abortion
- give a child up for adoption
- have a baby to save a marriage
- abuse drugs and alcohol
- rob a bank
- lie, cheat, steal, manipulate
- kidnap their own child
- attempt suicide
- commit suicide
Some will read this post and accuse me of being “pro-abortion”. Some won’t be that kind in their accusations. Let me be clear, I want to see all babied saved and safe. But which is worse: aborting a 12-week old fetus or shaking a 12-week old infant to death? Yeah, I can’t answer it either. But this I do know: screaming at a person who has lost all hope and calling them a murderer doesn’t solve anything. But, offering her hope will.
My sister was a single mom for several years. Her ex-husband rarely paid child support. And then only when Friend-of-the-Court bothered to garnish his wages. She qualified for childcare vouchers. But every time she would get a raise, they would cut her voucher amount. Often the raise didn’t even cover the amount she lost in the voucher. My sister found herself in the never-ending cycle that many single parents experience.
We cannot call ourselves pro-life and ignore or shame the woman standing before us. We cannot call ourselves pro-life and defund the very programs that do offer alternatives. Programs like childcare vouchers, prenatal care, birth control, job training, GED tutoring, food and formula supplement programs, etc. We cannot call ourselves pro-life and let the rapists go free while making the young girls (who are victims) give birth to those children. We cannot call ourselves pro-life and put politicians in office who, although labeled as pro-life, cut funding to all the programs that advocate for women and alternatives to abortion.
If you truly want to end abortion, then take care of the women who find themselves in hopeless and helpless situations. If you need some ideas to get you started, then here’s a short list:
- collect diapers and gas cards for a local pregnancy center
- volunteer at a pregnancy center
- if you’re feeling super Jesus-like, then volunteer at Planned Parenthood (think “Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors”)
- volunteer to do GED tutoring at your local high school or community college
- volunteer at your local upper-elementary school because it actually starts here
- vote for politicians who actually support alternative programs to abortion. Statistics show that these are the things that actually reduce abortion rates, not screaming and ranting and “praying” (yes, I’m all about praying, but you know what I mean)
- start a scholarship program at your church for underprivileged youth to attend community college or vocational school. If you don’t have any under-privileged youth in your church, then ask your congregation. Someone knows a few. Think outside your four walls. We’re working to break a cycle here.
- brainstorm with some friends about other ideas, but remember to get input from women who have “been there”
Christians have historically been some of the most creative problem solvers. Let’s put our creativity to work because, right now, we are not being hope-givers. We are being hope-stealers. Friends, the Gospel without hope is not the Gospel! Be hope to the world!