27 While he was saying this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!’ 28 But he said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!’
The Sign of Jonah
29 When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, ‘This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation. 31 The queen of the South will rise at the judgement with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here! 32 The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!
Matthew and to some extent Mark also give Jesus’ words about the demand for a sign, but only Luke give his response to the pious woman. Both passages deal with the dangers of religion.
The first deals with the danger of sentimental piety. It happens to be a woman who expresses it in this instance but it is a deformation of discipleship practiced by both sexes and at all times. It is as noticeable in lip -smacking observance of austere ritual as it is in fingerlickin’ revivalist singalongs. Sex is good but orgasmic religion is a bad substitute. I think of it as “creepyjesus” and have a horror of it, especially if I detect it in myself. Jesus saw it as a substitute for obedience to God. So many forms of bad religion rest on this emotionalism; Jesus’ dry rejection of it is helpful.
The second passage deals with the danger of the miraculous. From time immemorial religious snake-oil salesmen (and women!) have used the pseudo-miraculous to deceive gullible people and add to their own power or wealth. Jesus angrily rejected this tactic. He forbad people to think of his acts of healing as supernatural events, as if they were merely demonstrations of divine power. And he refused to make his ministry into a performance. Again it is clear that spurious use of the miraculous is still common in contemporary church life. The miracles attributed to the late Pope John Paul 2 to secure his rushed sanctification are one example and the weekly performance of well-staged miraculous healings in any number of exploitative evangelical assemblies is another. In almost all cases such miracles rest on hysteria and lies.
Jesus promises the people the sign of Jonah, that is, a voice calling for a change of living. (Matthew adds the thought that Jonah was three days and nights in the whale’s belly as Jesus be in the tomb. Luke’s version seems more original to me). The ‘something’ greater than either the wisdom of Solomon or the prophetic voice of Jonah is “The Son of Man”‘that is, Jesus as the bearer of the humane rule of God. That community of justice should be the focus of faith, not supernatural titbits for suckers.
Of course faithful people will often interpret what happens to them as instances of God’s rescuing goodness, but that is because they receive the whole of life as a miracle, including the times when the rescue is not apparent.
These apparently low key incidents are important guides to the Way of Jesus.