Sometimes it is easy to miss how Jesus insults the Pharisees. With 2000 years of cultural divide, it is easy to miss. Today in Matthew we discover Jesus invoking the name of Jonah, who is being demanded a sign from the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus says, “No sign will be given…except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth.”
To speak of Jonah is to really rub the Pharisees raw. Jesus was perplexed at how the words of the Pharisees did not match their actions. He warned them, called them names, and spoke of the day of judgment. Now he turns to Jonah, whose half-hearted preaching turned an entire city to repent. To repent at the words of Jonah is one thing. To not even see you need repentance is another. This is a cutting insult.
Then Jesus goes even further! “Something greater than Jonah is here,” he says, and later stating “something greater than Solomon is here!” He obviously doesn’t mean the Pharisees. It appears he is referring to himself.
It is no wonder the teachers of the Law turned against him. He threatened their authority and questioned their authenticity. It’s easy to demonize the Pharisees and mock their hearts of stone. But we know the whole story – we have seen him die on a cross and rise again. The Pharisees are simply reminders to us of the difficulty and strength it will take to believe and follow Christ.
Today we are not in the midst of easy times either. Challenges are all around us. Being a Christian is arguably harder today that it has been in recent history. If you turn on the television sometimes what is being sold as “Christianity” looks anything but. We must struggle every day for our words and deeds to match.
We do not need to relive the suffering of Christ for the gospel to come alive in our lives. But our spirits need to intersect with the faithfulness of the cross and challenge us to move from the cross to greater horizons. This is a daily struggle – a daily calling.