ƒ Christianity for Thinking People: Miracles are More Than Miraculous

Friday, May 23, 2008

Miracles are More Than Miraculous

"Immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” (Mark 2.12)

There is no doubt that the things Jesus did while on earth were stunning and even shocking to those that witnessed his acts! Two thousand years later we still talk about them and try to understand them. And yet miracles are difficult for us to reconcile with the way that we normally experience the world. The daily grind of our lives is pretty routine and mechanical. Life for most of us consists in a series of mundane routines that feel as natural as the ceaseless spinning of the earth on its axis. And yet deep down we probably all long for a little more of the miraculous!

The thing about Jesus miracles is that their significance lies in more than just the miraculous element. In every miracle story in the gospels there is a surplus of meaning that goes beyond the isolated event. If it was only a matter of one man on one occasion walking on water, then so what? How in the world could that possibly be good news for all people in all times and all places? Such an act may very well be miraculous but that doesn't make it the good news!

Miracle is more than just supernatural physical event. There is a spiritual, social, political, and symbolic meaning of miracle that makes those acts of Jesus significant for us all. For example, in the story of in Mark 2.1-12 there is a message of good news that goes beyond an isolated act of healing for a single individual. In that story, Jesus offered forgiveness, the remission of debt, to a paralytic (2.7). However, that claim was challenged by the "scribes" (2.8). Now, the scribes as a social and religious class were the guardians of the temple, and above all the temple existed as an institution to ensure that sin was forgiven through the offering of animal sacrifices.

Jesus was essentially challenging the authority of the scribal class by offering forgiveness apart from the temple-based order. For this the scribes called him a "blasphemer." They essentially accused him of being a practitioner of unauthorized religion. And no matter how ridiculous the charge seems to us in retrospect, it stuck. However, the good news in the story is that in Jesus we find forgiveness of sin apart from any human institution, no matter how sacred, ancient, and venerable!

Jesus' miracles are tremendously good news because they symbolize the truly radical and subversive nature of the kingdom of God. It is a kingdom that cannot be controlled or manipulated by any human power, because it is itself a manifestation of that which is beyond all human power. It is a kingdom that turns the social order of the world on its head. It is a kingdom that embraces the poor, the weak, the marginalized, the unholy and the unclean! It is the anti-kingdom in relation to all worldly empires. And that is a message of good news for all excluded and oppressed people, for all those that long for more than just the same old corrupt and corrupting business-as-usual world!

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