The Sign of Jonah and The Cross

Matthew 16.2-4
“When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’  and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.

Reflection: The Sign of Jonah and The Cross
By John Tillman

If Jesus had a website “Can you show us a sign from Heaven?” would be listed in his FAQs.

In today’s reading, Jesus references the “Sign of Jonah” and walks away without any explanation. Earlier in Matthew, he clearly connected the Sign of Jonah to his death, burial, and resurrection. Mark, when relating a similar demand that was answered in a similar way, gives the intimate detail that Jesus “sighed deeply” before answering this repetitive query. (What a very human moment this is—showing us that there is no frustration that our savior did not fully enter into and experience.)

Jonah’s emotional path is like a photo negative of Christ’s. Jonah went to Nineveh unwillingly. It was not because he was afraid for his life, as many prophets were. He did not want to save the Ninevites because they were dangerous enemies of Israel. He was willing to die to save the idol-worshiping sailors in the boat, but when Nineveh repented and wasn’t destroyed, Jonah pouted like a child for the destruction of his enemies.

Jesus is, indeed, “greater than Jonah,” as he claims in Matthew 12. Their similarities begin and end with the time spent in the belly of the fish and in the grave.

Jesus left Heaven, setting aside his glory willingly. Jesus’ desire was consistently to seek and save the outcast and the lost. He demonstrated his love for sinners because he was willing to die for us. When the unrepentant beat, stripped, and crucified Christ, he cried to his Father for the forgiveness of his tormentors.

The signs of scripture, like the signs of the sky Jesus references, are clear and we can read them. Like the religious leaders, who privately acknowledged Christ’s miracles, we fail to follow Christ not because we can’t read the signs but because we doubt what they say.

We question. We qualify. We delay.
Jesus tires. He sighs. He weeps.

Jesus, in frustration, “walked away” from the religious leaders. But that is only because they didn’t go with him. When Jesus walks away from us, it isn’t to abandon us. He intends us to follow him. One of the key differences between the religious leaders and the disciples is that the disciples took their questions and doubts with them, following Jesus anyway.

We can bring our doubts, but we must be willing to take up our cross. There is no other way to follow him.

Prayer: A Reading
Jesus said to us: “In truth I tell you, anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” — Luke 18.17

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 17 (Listen – 4:02)
Matthew 16 (Listen – 3:43)

Are you interested in joining an online community to share with The Park Forum readers? Email us at: info@theparkforum.org

Read more about Two Ways to be Religious
The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly.  — Søren Kierkegaard

Read more about Recalling the Failures
Christ’s message of reinstatement is for all of us. He doesn’t see our failures as the world sees them. Christ sees more failure in us than even we know, yet he re-calls us—he calls us to himself again, and again, and again. Christ re-calls the failures.

For Sustainable Cultivation :: A Guided Prayer

Matthew 15.13
He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots.”

Reflection: For Sustainable Cultivation :: A Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

A growing faith that produces a sustainable harvest is one that is cultivated.

Faith that produces harvest is supernatural. It has a purposeful and planned rhythm. It starts with the destruction of clearing obstacles. It continues with protection and tender care for the young plants. It multiplies with growth and harvest that is shared among community. It propagates through seeds of knowledge, passed on for the next generation of growth.

As we conclude (for now) our series on cultivating faith, we pray over our hearts (our fields) some scriptures from today’s readings.

A Prayer to the Sustainer of Faith
Oh, God, planter of the first garden, cultivator of all creation,
We ask you to teach us to cultivate our hearts.

Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
“‘These people honor me with their lips,
   but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
   their teachings are merely human rules.’”

We do not want our hearts to be far from you, Lord.
We do not wish to cultivate a system of human rules,
But a harvest of the fruit of your Spirit.

But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.

You have taught us, Lord, that the fruits of our actions spring from our hearts.
Our hearts are the fields that we must till and tend.

He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots.

Help us, Lord, to resist the urge to weed someone else’s field.
We pray that you would send us, Lord, first into the field of our own hearts.

To pull up the stones.
To burn out the crops of selfishness.
To pull up by the roots our callousness.
To nourish the good seed of the gospel.
To share the harvest in celebration.

Only then, Lord, will be able to give freely to our neighbors of the seed that you have planted in us.

We echo the cry of the outcast Syro-Phonecian woman, Lord.

Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!

We are desperate for a crumb of the harvest of the gospel.

And we long to hear you answer,

You have great faith! Your request is granted.

Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “Whoever holds my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me; and whoever loves me will be loved by my father, and i shall love him and reveal myself to him.” — John 14.21

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 16 (Listen – 2:18)
Matthew 15 (Listen – 4:23)

Are you interested in joining an online community to share with The Park Forum readers? Email us at: info@theparkforum.org

Read more about Kingdom Manifestation :: A Guided Prayer
There is a kind of sin-sickness that we nurse and maintain. Pray that it be healed. Ask for your eyes to be opened as your blindness is revealed.
Ask to be raised to new life.

Read more about Meals Together, Forgiveness to Go
Christ’s breakfast on the shore is a model for us of gathering those who have failed, reinstating each other through Christ’s redemption, and being sent out to feed others.

Cultivation Must Be Learned

Matthew 14.16
Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

Reflection: Cultivation Must Be Learned
By John Tillman

Cultivation requires intergenerational transfer.

The first training schools for ministers in the church were communities called, in Latin, seminarium, meaning “plant nursery” or “seed plot.” The root word (we just can’t escape agricultural metaphor) also gives us the word semen, the literal “seed” of humanity; seminal, implying an original source of thought or work; and, seminar, a focused time of learning.

Spiritual wisdom and knowledge, like agricultural knowledge, must be passed on, with its seeds, from one generation to the next.

I learned to shell purple-hulled peas (a more flavorful cousin to black-eyed peas) because I sat on a porch with my family and shared in the work before sharing in the meal. Many of us learn agricultural knowledge from a loved one. We learn to tell a fruit or vegetable is ripe, how and when to prune roses, how to properly root a cutting of a plant, or at what depth to set bulbs in order to have blooms at the proper time.

In individual, cultural, or generational isolation, we lose the ability to transfer or receive knowledge. And in one-way relationships, there is no ability to contextualize knowledge, to discuss it, or to practice together how to live it out. This is why one of the most rewarding parts of The Park Forum is when I hear from readers, and discuss what has challenged or encouraged them.

There are limits to the level of community that is possible for a geographically distributed ministry like The Park Forum. Distributed communities, like long-distance relationships, require energy and investment to maintain. It is our hope that The Park Forum is a community tool, a seed bed, a source of cuttings that can be planted and rooted in your community.

More of us need to sit around biblical teaching, like my family sat around a bucket of unshelled peas, extracting the value from the harvest together, one pod at a time. When we share in the work of extracting the goodness of the land, we gain more than a harvest of nutritional content, or monetary gain. We gain community.

Who is your community? With whom are you processing God’s Word? Who are the believers, older in the faith, from whom you are learning? Who are the believers, younger in the faith, with whom you are sharing what you have learned?

Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Sing to the Lord and bless his Name; proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations and his wonders among all peoples.  —  Psalm 96.2-3

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 15 (Listen – 2:53)
Matthew 14 (Listen – 4:14)

Join Us:
Are you interested in joining an online community to share with The Park Forum readers? Email us at: info@theparkforum.org

Read more about Where Wisdom Is Found :: A Guided Prayer
Human wisdom can only take us as far as human understanding, which even the greatest of scientists would admit continually finds more questions than it answers.


Read more about The Root of Wisdom
The writers of Scripture believed integrative wisdom could come only through prayer.


Cultivation Leads to Harvest

Matthew 12.1
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them.

Reflection: Cultivation Leads to Harvest
By John Tillman

Cultivation leads to harvest. Harvests, when shared, lead to celebration.

In the rural south, I often experienced touches of the generosity harvest brings. In northern Mississippi, you knew when someone’s harvest was in because the produce would show up unannounced at your door. Or sometimes in your kitchen.

I remember coming in from some errand with my Granny to find a bag of fruit on her table that hadn’t been there when we left. A neighbor, coming by while we were out had walked into the unlocked home and left a bag of fruit. My Granny recognized the giver by the gift and set to work baking the fruit in a cobbler to take back to his house. Of course we ate some as well.

The generosity of sharing in the harvest is not a southern or a northern phenomenon. It is a phenomenon that happens within communities where gains and pains are shared.

The fruit of harvest may be literal fruit—the fruit of the vine, the fruit of the grain, the fruit of trees. It may also be the fruit of beauty and peace—of fresh cut flowers from a garden, of sitting in cooling shade, of walking beneath vines whispering with wind, or of crossing a brook whose current waves the cattails at us in greeting.

Scripture has specific guidance for dividing the harvest. Some was to be left in the fields for the poor. A tithe was to be brought to the temple so that those who served the spiritual nourishment of the community could be physically nourished in return. Some was to be given in other sacrifices. Sacrifices for sins. Sacrifices for special requests to the Lord. Sacrifices on behalf of the community and for others. (Anyone teaching that all God wants from us financially is a tithe hasn’t read the Old Testament in depth.)

We are responsible for the care of our communities, spiritually and physically. This requires a financial and a spiritual harvest. We understand, if we don’t always follow, the principle of sharing our financial benefits with others. But often we are left with no harvest of wisdom, love, and mercy to share with our community, because we do not cultivate our spiritual growth.

How are you dividing up your spiritual harvest? To whom are you passing on biblical knowledge? With whom are you exploring the treasures uncovered in God’s Word? How are you supporting those who support your spiritual development?

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Our sins are stronger than we are, but you will blot them out.. — Psalm 65:3

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 12 (Listen – 2:51)
Matthew 11 (Listen – 4:06)

This Weekend’s Readings
Genesis 13 (Listen – 2:16), Matthew 12 (Listen – 6:41)
Genesis 14 (Listen – 4:04), Matthew 13 (Listen – 7:23)

Additional Reading
Read More about Redemption at Work in Generosity
Landowners, the CEOs of Israel’s agrarian society, had a holy responsibility to not wring every grain of profit from their fields—to not harvest the edges and corners of the field, and to not pick up dropped grain or return for forgotten sheaves.

Read More about Good News to the Poor :: Epiphany
When Mary sang about filling the hungry with good things, poverty and many other personal tragedies were considered markers of spiritual failure. Today we also see poverty as a result of sin.

How far will you travel in God’s Word this year?
On January 1st we restarted our two year Bible reading plan in Genesis and the Gospel of Matthew. Join us on the journey. We read the Old Testament over two years and the New Testament and Psalms each year.

Read with us at a sustainable pace. Subscribe and invite friends to join you using this link.

Where will a journey through the Bible take your faith in the coming year? Jesus calls each of us, saying, “Follow me.”


Cultivation Means Tending

Matthew 10.6-7
Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’

Reflection: Cultivation Means Tending
By John Tillman

Cultivation begins with destruction, but continues with tenderness and care. On cultivated ground, the soil density, moisture, depth, and chemical balance is carefully controlled. Seeds are planted. Young plants are carefully spaced and precisely watered.

Cultivation creates an environment for growth that is unnatural—that is supernatural. We remove threatening plants. We destroy harmful insects. We take measures to keep out damaging wildlife. We use technology to mitigate weather extremes. When the soil and the environment are ready, we tenderly introduce the seed.

Studying agriculture is fascinating. So many of the plants we eat today, that we think of as “natural” are cultivated. For example, Native American peoples cultivated natural grasses over centuries, creating maize and the corn we know today.

A similar history is found with wine and grapes, with apples, and many other plants. We cultivate, strengthen, protect, and grow the seed. Across the history of the world, peoples have adapted their calendars, lifestyles, and cultures to the needs of their main crop. We care for the seed and the seed changes us.

The seed we care for, and the seed that changes us, is the gospel. The gospel is a seed from the first garden, the garden of Eden. The seed of the woman, Jesus himself, is our salvation and we plant this seed in our own hearts. When we cultivate our faith, we must carefully plant and nurture the early growth of gospel teaching so that it grows strong, healthy, and productive.

This seed changes us more than we change it. We begin by tenderly caring for our young faith, protecting it from difficulties. When it has grown strong, it tenderly protects us, sheltering and supporting us through difficult times and famines of life.

It is for this reason that we work to encourage deepening the roots of our faith through intellectually honest and challenging devotionals and by studying the best writings of ancient and modern Christian thinkers, pastors, and authors.

We must tenderly care for faith as it grows. This is true of our own faith and the faith of others.

Whose faith are you tending? What seeds of the gospel are you planting? How are you adapting the rhythm of your life to tend the seed? How are you creating a supernatural environment around you to prepare the ground for the seed of the gospel?

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; knit my heart to you that I may fear your Name. — Psalm 86:11

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 11 (Listen – 3:47)
Matthew 10 (Listen – 5:07)

Additional Reading
Read More about Forging Faith :: Throwback Thursday
This is one of the most difficult teachings of Christianity: you are not yet perfect and must be shaped.

Read More about Resisting in Faith
Daniel lived undefiled, resisted the whims of an evil government, and influenced the course of an empire through simple faith and regular practice of spiritual disciplines.

How far will you travel in God’s Word this year?
On January 1st we restarted our two year Bible reading plan in Genesis and the Gospel of Matthew. Join us on the journey. We read the Old Testament over two years and the New Testament and Psalms each year.

Read with us at a sustainable pace. Subscribe and invite friends to join you using this link.

Where will a journey through the Bible take your faith in the coming year? Jesus calls each of us, saying, “Follow me.”


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