Today's Gospel for Morning Prayer comes from Mark 8. The Pharisees began to argue with Jesus, seeking a sign from heaven, to test Him.
The Greek word, peirazo, occurs four times in Mark's Gospel. The first time is in chapter one when Jesus is in the desert and Satan came to test/tempt Him.[the word peirazo means to try or test to determine the quality, it also means to tempt, to induce someone to do evil]
Because of Mt and Lk we tend to see the temptations/trial of Jesus through the lense of the "three temptations." Mark does not have that. Mk sees Jesus recapitulating Israel in the exodus desert. Even so, it is interesting that the word occurs three more times in Mark. Here, in 8:11, the Pharisees want a sign from heaven. This is basically what the temptations of Satan seek as well. Have God prove you are who you say you are. Show us a sign!!!
In 10:2 the test will be the question, "is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" [keep in mind what I have written about the last week: what is the original context of the question? Herod the tetrarch has married the wife of his brother! the question is politically charged--Mk 6:17 "For Herod had sent men who arrested John..on account of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because Herod had married her."] The Pharisees are probably trying to get Jesus killed.
The last time it occurs, 12:15 is when Jesus is asked, "Is it lawful to pay the tax?" Once again this is a political question. If Jesus says, "no" then the Romans would have cause to execute Him for sedition. If Jesus says "yes' then the Jewish people will be 'turned off' because Jesus accepted the intolerable oppression of a foreign invader. Jesus asks, "why do you test Me?" then says, "show me the coin." [A side note, Jesus did not have the coin (which was considered unclean and an abomination because it had an image on it!). When the critic of Jesus fished it out of his pocket, no doubt Jesus took a step back and looked at it with horror. At that moment the person trying to test Jesus was busted--he had the coin! Jesus' clever answer (Give to Caesar what is his--that infernal coin--and give to God what is God's--obedience to Torah/Divine Instruction) avoids the trap they set.]
Testing Jesus, however, did not end in 35AD. Why do we test Jesus? Why do we demand God prove Himself? So much of the anger which is manifest in agnostic/atheist types comes from God's failure to "prove He exists." The paradox, I see that same anger in Believers (including myself). We all want proof. We all want the unmistakable, no doubt about it, clear and sure sign from heaven. And just for emphasis we would not mind a second (and a third--greed again) to cement the case.
We stumble at taking Jesus at His word (and deed). We come up with lame excuses for the resurrection faith of the apostles. We write off the parts of the story which we find too "supernatural." Why?
Because we want God at our disposal, we do not want to be at His. We want a savior, but not much interested in a Lord. We want to run things, have God answerable to us. So we come up with the list: If you are God why do kids die? Why are there sad things and painful things? And really, the real question which we really care about, why can't things go MY way??!!??
Demanding a sign is the act of someone who thinks they are in charge, not God. It is the demand of silly human beings. Why silly? Because, in the end, if God is God then we should worship Him, not command Him to do parlor tricks to meet our criteria. A God Who allows people to demand proofs and then supplies them is not God...
The world is the way it is. Christian explanations for the troubles of the world are reasonable, even if not always satisfying. Things are not the way God originally desired, because God handed things over to freedom of choice. Also there are other 'forces' at work (i.e. demonic). The basic message: God has rescued us in Jesus and He expects us to trust Him and live lives worthy of one who has been redeemed at the expense of the Cross. Someday it will all be set right, in the meantime, do what God asks.
And God never asks for us to come up with demands for signs, proofs or any other tests for Himself. In fact, God asks us for the sign. God says, "Show Me a sign of repentance." Jesus says, "Show your fruits."
The one being tested and tried is me, and you. We are the ones who must "prove it." Until we get that right, things will continue upside down!