Red Skies


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 36; 147:12-20, Nehemiah 6:1-19, Revelation 19:1-10, Matthew 16:1-12

“Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.
Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.”

There’s some truth behind this ancient maritime folklore. The red appearance of the sky – really the underside of clouds – has to do with several factors including the wavelengths of light, the amount of condensation and particles in the air, and weather patterns generally moving from west to east. However, long before we knew the scientific reasons, people spent centuries observing this pattern and using those observations to fairly reliably make predictions about their world.

This observation goes back thousands of years, predating Christ. He mentions it to the Pharisees and Sadducees when they ask him for a sign: “You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”

The only sign he is willing to offer them is the sign of Jonah (another famous seafaring reference), who after three days in the darkness of the belly of a great fish emerged to call the people of Nineveh to repentance. This is a bit of role reversal however. Jonah vigorously resisted God’s call to be a prophet while Jesus was obedient unto death, and the Ninevites were quick to repent while the Pharisees and Sadducees looked for ways to betray Jesus.

Do we ever ask for signs because we don’t want to face what’s obviously before us? As a species we are less swayed by truth than we are by emotion, and we can become very emotionally invested in a sign (or lack thereof). As a matter of fact, when faced with facts we don’t like we are more likely to dig in our heels than change our minds, and grasp at any straw supporting our position. Is it ever more obvious than when debate about political and social issues rapidly abandons facts for emotional and tribal attacks? And what gets really tricky is we’re all convinced we’re the ones being reasonable. The Pharisees and Sadducees thought they were protecting their fellow Jews by squashing what appeared to them a seditious movement.

When presented with new information, let’s try to be more repentant Ninevite and less inflexible Pharisee. If we spend too much effort searching the sky for those rare signs, we may just miss all the evidence right in front of us.

Comfort: The world is full of the wonder of God’s glory.

Challenge: Let’s look for it where it is, instead of trying to force it to be where we are looking.

Prayer: I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. (Psalm 27:13)

Discussion: Are there any subjects that make you defensive?

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