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Daily Devotion for January 17, 2014

<i>Jonah and the Whale</i> by Albert Herbert ca. 1987.
Jonah and the Whale by Albert Herbert ca. 1987. Herbert was a British post-modernist who adopted an untutored style. Jonah was a favorite of his, the subject of dozens of very different treatments.



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lessons and scripture

Lord's Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.


I hope everyone will be able to slow down for a few minutes to hear this ethereal and angelic masterpiece. It begins with the first part of the Agnus Dei (“Oh Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.”) then segues into a stirring chorale for the second part, Dona nobis pacem (“Grant us thy peace.”)

Prayer for This Day

Heavenly Father, let me do my work this day; and if the darkened hours of despair overcome me, may I not forget the strength that comforted me in the desolation of other times. May I still remember the bright hours that found me walking over the silent hills of my childhood, or dreaming on the margin of a quiet river, when a light glowed within me, and I promised my early God to have courage amid the tempests of the changing years.

Spare me from bitterness and from the sharp passions of unguarded moments. May I not forget that poverty and riches are of the spirit. Though the world knows me not, may my thoughts and actions be such as shall keep me friendly with myself.

Lift up my eyes from the earth, and let me not forget the uses of the stars. Forbid that I should judge others lest I condemn myself. Let me not follow the clamor of the world, but walk calmly in my path.

Give me a few friends who will love me for what I am; and keep ever burning before my vagrant steps the kindly light of hope.

And though age and infirmity overtake me, and I come not within sight of the castle of my dreams, teach me still to be thankful for life, and for time's olden memories that are good and sweet; and may the evening's twilight find me gentle still.



[Let us close our eyes and meditate upon being “spared from bitterness”.]

Benediction (from Colossians 3)

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within me all this day; and whatever I do in word or deed, may I do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.


Think of the day ahead in terms of God with you, and visualize health, strength, guidance, purity, calm confidence, and victory as the gifts of His presence.

<i>Madonna and Child</i> by Carlo Crivelli, ca. 1480.
Madonna and Child by Carlo Crivelli, ca. 1480.

Psalm 34:15-18 (NKJV)

The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
And His ears are open to their cry.
The face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears,
And delivers them out of all their troubles.
The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart,
And saves such as have a contrite spirit.

Blue Latin Cross

Matthew 16:1-4 (ESV)

The Pharisees and Sadducees Demand Signs

And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.

An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.

Notes on the Scripture

The word “sign” sometimes has a narrow and special significance in the New Testament, or in literature commenting on the life of Christ; but it is also used in a more general sense — just think of the expression, “it's a sign from God,” to understand the general meaning. The distinction between the two meanings is subtle and must be gleaned from the context.

In its more general sense, sign has a number of synonyms, such as “miracle”, “wonder”, or “work”. It is a generic term for an unnatural occurrence, intentionally created by God, to convey a message of divine intention to humanity. Usually signs are generated solely by God's will; almost never will God give a sign at the request of a person. There are occasional exceptions, though; one that comes immediately to mind is Gideon, who asked God for signs and was given them, repeatedly. (Judges 6)

Christ, in particular, refused to prove his divinity by performing tricks on request, especially requests from the skeptical. He did not use miracles to attract followers. (Non-believers would often witness these, however, and broadcast them as miracles.) But he did use signs — and this is the narrow usage mentioned above — as teaching tools or rewards for those who believed in him, to help develop their faith, perhaps, to guide them in their gradual realization of everything that He was and stood for. The Gospel of John, in particular, focuses on Christ's miracles as signs.

Moreover, He would fairly often perform a miraculous healing on request; but notice, these were never requests for him to prove his divinity. They were pleas from men and women of faith, who believed He could and would heal them or a loved one desperately ill.

In today's reading, the inimical Pharisees are joined by the even more inimical Sadducees, who would have come from Jerusalem to investigate a potential religious crime. Remember, the Sadducees and Pharisees were themselves deadly enemies, and their joint demand of Jesus was a case of politics making strange bedfellows.

Not only do they ask Christ to perform a miracle simply to prove his divinity; the challenge him to do so. This behavior will continue without end; when Christ was hanging on the cross, mockers challenged him to save himself by his divine power. (One could say that such challenges continue to this very day.)

The meaning of the “sign of Jonah” metaphor should be clear to Christians, for Jesus will (like Jonah) have his body swallowed by death for three days and then return. It is, Christ says, the one sign meant for all mankind, believer and unbeliever alike. But here is the essential truth of miracles as signs: even if an unbeliever witnesses a great miracle, he will still not believe, but will find some sort of rationalization to reject it. Thus, more than one sign is superfluous.

Those who profess belief in Christ often become confused about this, and it leads to ridiculous results, as with the Shroud of Turin, or someone finding an image of Jesus — as if anyone knows what He looked like — in a pumpkin or grilled cheese sandwich. Paul lambastes such expectations in 1 Corinthians 1. More specifically, though, Christ himself tells us that we should expect one and only one miracle, as sufficient to prove his divinity and his power for all time: the Resurrection.

endless knot

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James 2:24, 26: You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. . . . For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

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