Hello again! I am Jim Jelinek, and I serve as one of the clergy at Trinity Church, Newport, with my colleague The Rev. Alan Neale+. This is another one of the reflections/meditations we provide daily during this time. My text for today is from Matthew’s Gospel [16:1-12], which is from the Daily Office for today.

“The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test Jesus they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, ‘When it is evening, you say, “It will be fair weather for the sky is red.” And in the morning, “It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.” You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.’ Then he left them and went away.

When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Watch out, and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’ They said to one another, ‘It is because we have brought no bread.’ And becoming aware of it, Jesus said, ‘You of little faith, why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How could you fail to perceive that I was not speaking about bread? Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!’ Then they understood that he had not told them to beware of the yeast of the bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” The Gospel of the Lord.

This two part vignette from Jesus’ life with his disciples is very interesting. First of all we have this encounter with the Pharisees and Sadducees, who are again challenging Jesus. Often they are trying to trick him because he is teaching about God with no rabbinical training. In other words, “Who the hell does he think he is?” Again and again, Jesus goes to a deeper place in responding to their question, and leaves them speechless. I have said before that Jesus does not have to be smart to be the Savior of the world, he just has to be faithful to the One he knows as God and Father. But Jesus is very smart, and he leaves those who try to trick him, to catch him in a scriptural or theological error—well, he leaves them in the dust, and with their mouths hanging open in seeming disbelief that he got the better of them again.

This time they ask for a sign from heaven. They might just as well be saying, “If you think you know so much about what God has in store for us humans, then prove it to us. Give us a sign that we can verify really comes from God.” Jesus comes right back at them with a very simple response, talking about looking at the sky and predicting the weather. How many times have we heard farmers and fishermen do that? And he says to them, “You are right about that; you can tell a lot about the weather that is on its way by looking into the sky.” But he also tells them they do not understand the times they are living in.

I think this is especially apparent right now in our world. When all the protests began two weeks ago, the overwhelming characterization of them by some sources was that they were about violence and hatred. But as we have listened, as in place after place though the demonstrations are getting larger, they are generally getting calmer. We can now hear a persistent voice coming through proclaiming that we can no longer tolerate some folks in our culture being made second or third class citizens, whether by rogue police or anyone else. And now we are perceiving an overwhelming majority of people approving of the demonstrations, but certainly not the violence that a relatively small body of people are causing. “The times, they are a-changin’.”

Hope is on the rise again!

Jesus makes a very oblique reference, saying “no sign will be given except the sign of Jonah.” There it is; but did they catch it? Jonah was swallowed up by the big fish; he was literally dead for three days. What do we think Jesus was prophesying here? I think the taunters missed it, and Jesus had had enough of them for one day and walked away.

In part two of this story, Jesus is alone with his disciples and they realize they have no food with them, especially bread, and when he tells them to beware the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees, they think he is chastising them, but not so. I think he is dismayed that they don’t get what he’s saying. First of all, do you remember all that bread we had left over when we started with so little with those two huge crowds? So if that could happen then, why do you worry about bread now. When he says again, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!” they get it this time. The Pharisees’ yeast (i.e., their teaching) will spoil the culture, just as bad yeast will spoil the bread.

As we look around us at the events that are unfolding, a virus still growing larger by the day, an economy very fragile with tens of millions suddenly and perhaps for a long time unemployed, and anger about racism, both personal and institutional; those are all signs of our times. What do they point to for you? What is the leaven we are hearing, and where is the voice of God in all of this? I am not talking about one big answer, but what are the little signs of hope that perhaps this awful sickness is provoking us to look more honestly into our own hearts and the core of some of our laws that discriminate and demean and diminish some people among us, laws that are unjust and unequal. I find a lot of hope in the fact that the people who are protesting, including a good number of you in the parish, really believe that some good will come out of this to make our society healthier.

My hope always is that change can be an evolution, smoothly flowing from one time to another, but time and again we have learned that subjugation brings about revolution. May our society change for the better and as peacefully as possible because so many now seem to want and be willing to work for healthy change. Amen.

Have a good day and look for the signs of God’s will being done, and God’s kingdom coming into our hearts and our communities. God’s every blessing to you. +JLJ