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1/27/2000
WORD OF FAITH
Miracles point the way
REV. ROGER KARBAN


 

Jesus' Gospel miracles are not intended to be proofs that Jesus is God. Our evangelists assume those who read their gospels already believe in Jesus' divinity. But because "god" means different things to different people, the authors use Jesus' miracles to show us what kind of a God He is.

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John initially choose a few miracles from the many passed on by the early Church's preachers, then carefully construct narratives with and around them that will best give us insights into Jesus' personality.

The first miracle an evangelist narrates sets the theological theme for the rest of his Gospel, pointing the direction into which our faith in Jesus should take us. That's why John, trying to show how Judaism has been transformed into Christianity, makes the changing of water into wine the "first sign" Jesus performs.

Significance

Sunday's Gospel (Mk 1:21-28) contains Mark's first miracle. Our earliest evangelist deliberately picks an exorcism to be the first of Jesus' miraculous actions, an event just as theologically significant as John's Cana sign.

Jews, at the time of Jesus, regard demons as the primary source of most evil. Demons not only tempt people to sin, but are also responsible for such bad things as physical and mental illness. So when Mark's Jesus begins His public ministry by casting out an unclean spirit, Mark is telling us that Jesus is the kind of God who eradicates evil.

The unspoken response to the demons' question, "Have you come to destroy us?" echoes Mark's belief that the risen Jesus can destroy the evil which dominates our lives.

But since Gospels are written primarily to help us reflect on our own following of Jesus, Mark presumes this narrative will help us realize that we, as "other Christs," must also join in destroying evil. True disciples of Jesus strive daily to get rid of as much evil as possible. If we refuse to aim our lives in that direction, we can hardly be called people of faith.

There's just one problem: Different authors of the Christian Scriptures reserve the right to point us in different directions. Paul, for instance (I Cor 7:32-35) encourages his community to let nothing hinder its preparation for the Lord's Parousia. Christians should be "anxious" only about His glorious return. Believing Jesus' arrival to be imminent, he logically advises the unmarried to remain unmarried. Why spend time preparing for an event scheduled to take place after the Second Coming?

Since at our stage of salvation history, the Parousia has been delayed for at least 1,900 years, we must be careful how we interpret Paul's words today. When he dictated I Corinthians, he couldn't foresee the possibility that one could live an entire natural lifetime before Jesus returned.

This way

Yet, in pointing his community in the direction of the Parousia, Paul was simply doing something all followers of God expect their leaders to do. That's why, in the first reading (Deut 18:15-20), we sense the Israelites' panic when they realize Moses is about to die. From Egypt, through the years of wandering in the Sinai, he alone had pointed them in the right direction.

Presuming they don't want to deal directly with Yahweh, the only way they'll discover Yahweh's will for them will be through the words and actions of Yahweh's prophets. "I will raise up a prophet like you (Moses)," God promises, "from among their kin, and will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all I command them."

Though the Jews of Jesus' time thought the promised prophet would be one special individual modern scholars believe this passage originally assured God's people that they would always have prophets to point the way.

If their opinion is correct, we must ask a double question: Who are today's prophets, and in what direction are they pointing? Or in simpler terms: If I were an evangelist, what would be the first miracle in my Gospel? (01-27-00)










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