Matthew 16:1-4

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. Matthew 16:1-4

Today’s reading opens in a very unsurprising way. The Pharisees and Sadducees, the two competing voices for spiritual authority in Israel who would normally be opposed to each other in knee jerk, reactive, ways, are strangely aligned in their rejection of Jesus. Once again they seek to attack him, to test him. They ask for a sign from heaven. No surprise there.

Jesus points out the obvious. They “see” what they want to see. They are capable of interpreting meteorological data. Red sky at night, sailors’ delight; red sky in the morning, sailors’ take warning. That’s easy. It is an old saw based on observable atmospheric conditions and long life experience, taught to the youngest of children. There is nothing new there. But then Jesus throws in the first of two shattering pronouncements – you cannot interpret the signs of the times, quickly followed by no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. How do we hear this today?

Psychologists have long known that people are susceptible to what they call a “myside bias.” That is, we are quick to support our own point of view and eager to find evidence to support what we already believe. Conversely, we are quick to reject alternative points of view that challenge our biases. My sense is that Jesus picks up on this in pointing out how the Pharisees and Sadducees are incapable of interpreting the signs of the times. Jesus is standing right there in front of them but they can’t see him. Their myside bias is blinding them to the obvious.

We saw a clear case of that last week. A public official equated the suggestion that a 32 year old man accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with a 14 year old girl is no different than an adult Joseph and a teenaged Mary becoming parents of Jesus. He used Jesus to apologize for behavior that, if true, would be criminal! Ludicrous, blasphemous, and utterly appalling. How can any follower of Jesus not find that disgusting?

Beyond that, how is that comparison any different than if Devin Kelley was still alive and arguing that what he did in that church is not a whole lot different than what Samson did with the jawbone of a donkey since both behaviors began with anger triggered by a scene of domestic disturbance and his frustration with his father-in-law? (Read the story in Judges 15.)

Yet where was the outcry from evangelical circles who support that now 70 year old man’s quest to become a senator? Where were the voices of indignation and cries of “heresy!” from the many organizations that have long been far more Republican than Christian? Silence. Equivocation. Justification. Myside bias.

What is the sign of Jonah? We will discover that as we continue to read through Matthew 16, a chapter when Jesus draws several lines in the sand, inviting us all to declare who we believe Jesus to be, even as Jesus guides us toward what it means to follow him.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we all fall prey to myside bias. We defend ourselves, our ways of looking at the world, often in irrational and knee jerk ways. Just as your opponents couldn’t see you, we too often see only what we seek to see, blind to the realities that would reshape our perspective, change our minds, and open our hearts. Keep working on us! Heal us in our blindness. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


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