The ‘neighborhood assist’ ministry program at Roberts Park UMC provides help for up to ten people early on many of the Monday mornings throughout the year. The church helps by providing some limited assistance with drug co-pays, transport to work in the first two pay periods of a job and by far the biggest assistance is with people getting copies of their birth certificates. Very often it is people who have lost everything and need to start from scratch, as it were, with getting back their identity. A birth certificate first, then a replacement social security card, then a picture Id from the State and so on. Rebuilding your identity is essential in today’s world as without it virtually no one will be able to offer further assistance, including employment. Increasingly today we are asked to provide evidence that we are who we claim to be.
Many similarly, wanted proof concerning the identity of Jesus. They knew that his followers believed him to be the Messiah but before they could even consider such a claim, they wanted something more concrete as corroboration. One cannot help sympathize a little with their request. It was, after all, an astonishing assertion that Jesus was making. Add to the fact that many had come previously claiming to be the Messiah, and we can at least begin to understand their hesitation.
So why was the response of Jesus so curt, according to Matthew’s gospel (12:9) even brusquer than that already recorded by Mark? The answer I believe lays in the fact that he had already given innumerable signs, if only they had eyes to see them. Everything in his life and ministry pointed to whom he was, testifying to the hand of God upon him. If they couldn’t see the truth that was staring them in the face, then they would never see it, no matter how many more signs they were given. We, like the Pharisees, may sometimes wish there was less need for faith and more certainty in Christian belief. We may crave for some sign to put paid to any lingering doubts we may have. I suspect, though, that Jesus’ answer to us would be the same: the signs are all around those with the humility, the insight and the faith to discern them. Jesus says in Mark’s gospel, “Do you still not understand or realize what is happening? Have your hearts become so hardened that despite having eyes you cannot see and having ears you cannot hear? Do you not remember? Do you still not understand?” (Mark 8:17-18, 21)
Are you so preoccupied with questions that you fail to see the answers all around you? Have you missed the signs God has given of his renewing love and transforming power?
Perhaps this can be your prayer this week? ‘Living God, you are at work in so many ways, if I could only see it. Forgive me everything that blinds me to the breadth of your activity – my closed mind and rigid preconceptions; my limited understanding and lack of faith, my asking the wrong questions and looking in the wrong places for the wrong things. Open my eyes to your presence, my mind to your truth, and my soul to your Spirit, and so may I glimpse you in the daily events of my life and the affairs of the world around me, today and every day, in Christ’s name. Amen. (Nick Fawcett)