Sighing deeply, Jesus said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? I tell you, no sign will be given it.”
with sighs too deep for words
required proof disappoints
meaning models continually fail
when carried beyond their time
trying to capture a gift event
wears out soul and spirit
both ancient and yesterday’s truth
meets today’s gang aft aglee
and cannot hold its virtue
without its very betrayal
an escalation of signs
tears at our common space
each one saying more
and signifying less
I have sighed impatiently at myself for having been ineffective in representing the blessing I have received.
I have sighed impatiently at others for holding so tightly to a smaller blessing when a larger one is at hand.
How do you read Jesus’ impatience here?
Your choice will affect how the rest of Mark will be read, particularly the apocalypticism of Chapter 13.
There are some who would look at the little word τίς (tis, probably an interrogative pronoun) and jump to the biggie of “why” while a scattered few would settle for a more pragmatic “what” or “how”.
J.B. Philips’ translation has impatience turned to exasperation, “What makes this generation want a sign? I can tell you this, they will certainly not be given one!” An implication is that they wouldn’t recognize it even if it came gift-wrapped, with their name on it.
Matthew Black’s preference for “how” brings a head-scratch musing about how we keep hanging on that is later echoed in James Russell Lowell’s hymn, Once to Every Man and Nation—
New occasions [signs] teach new duties,
Time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still and onward,
Who would keep abreast of truth.
There are sufficient signs from our checkered past and our indeterminate present; there are ever new signs from a potent(ial) future, to keep us active in moving them from sign to presence. This fullness of signs is wearying and testing without a retreat that reminds—the prospering of evil is an insufficient sign to bring resignation.