Interpreting the signs — An invitation to keep on changing

Today’s gospel from the 8th chapter of Mark is short and interesting.

11 The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven, to test him. 12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation.” 13 And he left them, and getting into the boat again he departed to the other side.

Many of us humans are curious people. There could be different reasons for our curiosity. I list a few of them;

  1. We want to know about the things we don’t know. The effects of this knowing or getting the information could be extremely different, and it depends on the person and the circumstances.
  2. We want to find stuff to prove that I am right or my opponent is wrong. This is true especially with the political advertising in the social media where many are curious to find cases/situations where my party is right and the opponent is wrong.
  3. Sometimes it is connected to a fear (real/imagined). A disease is a good example of a real fear, whereas psychological issues can create imaginary fears.

And we, the curious people, often ask for signs to believe that a particular fact is true. And I think this is very much connected to a scientific attitude; So far it is good.

I remember an example told by a philosophy professor. Imagine one of the first planes flying in the sky; what would have been the response of a physics professor/aeronautical engineer, a common man and an aboriginal. For all of them, the same sign represents different things. The meaning of the sign has much to do with their worldviews.

Yes, one of the immediate counter-response would be the aborigine would learn science in the future and may come to recognize a similar meaning to it as the physics professor. Is the world-view of science always perfect and right? It is difficult to give an emphatic Yes especially when we see the ecological problems (for which a mechanistic world-view of Newton had a role to play). And many would agree that there is more than science in the world and thus to our world-views.

Thus the interpretation of signs depends on the world-views and it is difficult to say whether there is one world-view which can give a response that is the best. (there are lot more issues to be discussed and may be you could give a thought on dependence of the signs on the worldviews. )

Coming to the gospel of the day, pharisees were asking for a sign from heaven. There were many actions from Jesus, which were signs for his followers that he is the Messiah or that he is the son of God. But they never became a sign to the pharisees (sometimes we say they were adamant not to see them as signs). I don’t want to get into a pharisee bashing, but what could be the message of this passage?

For many centuries, Christians and Jews believed in the literal interpretation of the creation story (6 day creation + 1 day rest). Even after the theory of evolution and big bang theory, many struggled to meaningfully resolve the conflict positions. Today the church could see the scientific theories as signs explaining the creation because Biblical world views have been modified with the researches in Bible and evidences from scientific research.

For me, the message of the parable is to get rid of our rigidity. Our world-views are never perfect and they need to be changed constantly to interpret and re-interpret the signs (signs of all forms). For a Christian, the purpose of this interpretations is to recognize God’s action in all the signs and to establish the kingdom of God here and now.

A Jesuit interested to think and write; Loves philosophy, spirituality, politics…. Believes in God & well-being of all humans… Open to difference & newness..