Jesus didn’t water down his message for the crowds or give them just what they wanted to hear. Jesus called them (and us) to repent – to face reality and turn from living in lies that hinder our ability to participate in what God is doing in the world. God’s Kingdom happens in our lives and in our communities when we repent and line our lives up with God’s way of looking at the world and God’s ways of living.
This passage might seem a bit cryptic unless you notice how Jesus is using two Old Testament stories to make his point. The crowds are asking for a sign, even though he has been working all kinds of miracles. Here he refers to the Queen of Sheba for 1 Kings 10. She was an outsider who visited Jerusalem and saw the glory of God. Jesus uses this story to explain how she got what God was doing in the world more than those listening to Jesus that day.
In the same way he uses the story of Jonah and his preaching to the Ninevites and how this group of outsiders responded to God’s Kingdom. It is as if Jesus is saying “If the pagan Ninevite responded positively to the little light of truth they got from Jonah, how much MORE should Jesus’ Jewish audience respond positively to the full light they are getting from Jesus.”
Jesus did not water down his message for the crowds and give them what they wanted for the sake of the show. Instead he labels them as a “wicked generation” because they could not see what God was doing in that day. A large congregation is no evidence of the Kingdom. It may be evidence of a religious carnival. But crowds come and go. The evidence of God’s kingdom is when people are repenting and getting their lives to line up with God’s reign, that is God’s ways of looking at the world, God’s ways of living.
The crowd wanted a Messiah who will prove himself ON THEIR TERMS and conform to their expectations. They wanted him to prove over and over that he was the Messiah, to serve them with miracles and to give them signs from heaven. Ultimately they wanted someone to resolve all their political issues and fix their national problems by driving out the Romans. Their preconceptions and beliefs hindered them from seeing the light of the world.
So Jesus called them to repent, to face reality instead of creating their own reality which will hinder their ability to participate in what God is doing in the world. We all tend to write our own story where we tell ourselves what is real. Repentance is about turning away from this false reality and coming to see what is real and what is not.
Repentance is much more than an emotional experience where one feels remorseful for what they have done. It involves turning away and choosing to live differently. As a result, repentance involves action. It may require asking for forgiveness or restitution. And it usually involves relating to people in a different way.
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