Today’s Gospel presents what may sound to us like harsh words from Jesus. “This generation is an evil generation…” The same thing could be said about our generation today, and likely about every generation from Adam until today. The specific context of Jesus' comment here is the unbelieving hearts of those who were witnesses to the Son of God incarnate, demonstrating in word and power that He was God among us and the Messiah. To experience Christ when He walked the earth and demanded even more signs was the epitome of denial and stubbornness.
In our generation today, some claim that they do not believe in God because there is not enough evidence. Yet, when it comes down to brass tacks they probably would not believe in God if “copyright God” were stamped on every molecule under a microscope or drawn in cloud lettering in the sky. These signs would be explained away, and even more evidence desired. The noted atheist scientist Peter Akins once said that if wound up face to face with the Lord one day, say in an afterlife scenario, he would simply attribute it to insanity.
It is a source of consternation and befuddlement that two people can look at the same arguments and evidence and come to different conclusions. For example, how one can understand the demonstrations offered for the existence of God by St. Thomas and still conclude God does not exist. Or those who look at the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus and still claim there was a conspiracy or group hallucination that brought about this belief. Surely, these people are rational. We may charitably think they approach these subjects with a reasonably open mind. Still, the frequent echo is more evidence. More reasons to believe. In a way, they are saying “God, if you are there, give us more to go on.”
From Jesus’ time until today, there is always a division among people about God and especially about the nature of Jesus. Aquinas says there is more than merely the intellect involved when it comes to the elements of faith (the existence of God not being one of them, but that is a different subject for another day). Since today’s Gospel concerns the reception of Jesus and His proclamation of the Kingdom, we can hover on the points of faith. To affirm Jesus as the Son of God incarnate involves the will as much as the intellect. The will must move us to believe beyond what is perfectly perceptible or what may be grasped by the intellect. Perhaps the most philosophical words in the New Testament are “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” In this state of honesty and humility, God reaches down to us and brings us across the chasm where the intellect cannot see. First, though, I think our will must be quieted. The work of the Holy Spirit does this. He can bring us to a state where we are able to see clearly what God asks of us in response to His grace and we can accept or reject His offer.
As Bishop Barron says, faith is not sub-rational. Faith is supra-rational. Faith gives us things to believe that we are not able to attain on our own. We cannot reason from effect to cause, or vice versa. We need help from somewhere beyond our purview. Thus, the contrast in response between the repentance of Nineveh and the hard-heartedness of the Israelites in Jesus’ audience. Nineveh is moved to repentance, and an act of faith in the God of Jonah – taking Him seriously. They do not demand Jonah perform more signs and wonders.