For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and the other by a free woman. One, the child of the slave, was born according to the flesh; the other, the child of the free woman, was born through the promise. Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery.
But the other woman corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother. For it is written, "Rejoice, you childless one, you who bear no children, burst into song and shout, you who endure no birth-pangs; for the children of the desolate woman are more numerous than the children of the one who is married."
So then, friends, we are children, not of the slave but of the free woman. For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
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. For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation. The queen of the South will rise at the judgment 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! The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!"
Some people with little or no knowledge of Jesus manifest a gentleness, honesty and generosity which puts to shame many Christian believers. The gospel gives us excellent examples of this. While Jesus was comparing the gentiles with his Jewish compatriots, the story was written for Christian communities. The queen of the south represents Africa, when she came to hear the wisdom of Solomon. The Ninevites who had destroyed northern Israel were converted by the obstinate Jonah. Yet, a greater power than Solomon and Jonah was present in Jesus. With so little those pagans accomplished so much. We who see and hear so much... accomplish so little!
It reminds us of Paul's letter to the Galatians, where he introduces the famous opposition between flesh and spirit, the way of nature and the way of God's promises. This image many Old Testament passages which speak of several key persons born of very elderly or sterile couples: Isaac, son of Abraham and Sarah in their old age (Gen 18:11); Samson, whose mother had been "barren and had borne no children" (Judg 13:2); Samuel, whose mother, "Hannah was childless" up to that time (1 Samuel 1:2).
Paul's line of reasoning in Galatians is in a style strange for us. In fact, he who knew Israel's history so well turns history on its head, arguing with Rabbinical subtlety. He traces the unconverted Jewish people to Abraham's son Ishmael, while the gentile Christians are related to Abraham's son Isaac, conceived by Sarah. Each of us, he seems to say, has not one but two births. We are born of the flesh in the natural order, and born of the spirit in the supernatural order. Our second birth (through the Spirit) surpasses our fleshly human ability and potency, and it leads to eternal life. Flesh is doomed to die; spirit is promised eternal life.
People come to Jesus looking for a sign. He replies that the signs they are looking for are right in front of their eyes if only they could see them. The people of Nineveh took Jonah more seriously than the people of Jesus' generation were taking him, thought there were far more powerful signs of God's presence in the life of Jesus than in the life of Jonah. "Something greater than Jonah is here." The queen of Sheba took Solomon more seriously than the people of Jesus' generation were taking him, although there were more powerful signs of God's presence in the life of Jesus than in the life of Solomon. Something greater than Solomon is here.
In looking for the extraordinary, we too can miss the richness in the ordinary. In many ways Jesus was very ordinary. 'Is not this the son of the carpenter?', the people of Nazareth asked. When Jesus spoke about God's kingdom, the ways of God, he did so in very ordinary terms, the sower going out to sow, the man robbed on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, the father whose son left home in a very selfish fashion, the weeds that grow among the field of wheat. These were scenes from ordinary life. Jesus was saying, the signs of God's presence are to be found there in the ordinary stuff of life, for those who have eyes to see. This morning we pray for eyes to see the many signs of the Lord's presence in our day to day lives.