Fr Paul reads from the Gospel of Mark (8: 11-13) in which the Pharisees question Jesus and ask him for a sign from heaven.

Fr Paul says the little passage we’ve heard today is really puzzling. The request for a sign comes four times in the Gospel. It is only in this particular passage in Mark that Jesus absolutely refuses a sign; in all the others he promises the sign of the prophet Jonah. This sign would be that as Jonah reappeared after three days in the belly of the great sea beast, so Jesus would be raised from the tomb after three days. Here and in the other evangelists the request is specifically for a sign from heaven, which means not necessarily a sign in the skies but a divine sign.

The puzzling feature is that the healings and the other wondrous deeds of Jesus were indeed signs of the coming of the Kingdom of God, and in the Gospel of John they are specifically and emphatically called ‘signs’; the wonder at Cana was ‘the first of the signs’ of Jesus (John 2:1).

A way out of the dilemma may be that the Pharisees were demanding an earth-shaking sign. There are many pharisaic stories of conjuring-trick wonders, like making water flow uphill. Perhaps Jesus was refusing to provide such a trick-sign, and regarded his healings and exorcisms as simply works of kindness and mercy. Perhaps the mention of a sign like that of the prophet Jonah was added only later, when Jesus had actually provided such a sign in the form of the Resurrection.

Fr Paul notes today’s Gospel Lesson – the healings and other wondrous works of Jesus are the signs that tell us who he is.