PARISH LENTEN MISSION 2018: "THE MIRACLES OF CHRIST"
Conference II, February 23rd, 2018 A.D.
“At that time there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is at Jerusalem a pond called Probatica, which in Hebrew is named Bethsaida, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick, of blind, of lame, of withered, waiting for the moving of the water. And an angel of the Lord descended at certain times into the pond, and the water was moved. And he that went down first into the pond after the motion of the water was made whole of whatsoever infirmity he lay under. And there was a certain man there that had been thirty-eight years under his infirmity. Him when Jesus had seen lying, and knew that he had been now a long time, He saith to him: Wilt thou be made whole? The infirm man answered Him: Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pond: for whilst I am coming, another goeth down before me. Jesus saith to him: Arise, take up thy bed and walk. And immediately the man was made whole: and he took up his bed and walked. And it was the sabbath that day.” (John 5:1-9)
This healing of the man 38 years under his infirmity at the pool of Bethsaida (or “Bethesda” as it also may be rendered in translation) is an example of one of the Miracles of Healing which Jesus did in the course of His Public Life. Note the important characteristics of the miracle.
1) It is done in public–there is an obviously sick man, anyone who happened to notice Jesus of Nazareth moving about the sick crowd there could have seen the events unfold; 2) Jesus seeks some sign of good will on the man’s part–in this case it is his utter helplessness, “Wilt thou be made whole? The infirm man answered Him: Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pond: for whilst I am coming, another goeth down before me.”; 3) The effect of the miracle performed by Jesus is instantaneous, there is no lag time, “Arise, take up thy bed and walk.”, and 4) There is no natural explanation for what happened. A sick man like that would have had no muscle strength to stand up himself, let alone pick up a mat too: even if his infirmity cleared up, it would have taken a long time of rehab, and yet–“Immediately the man was made whole: and he took up his bed and walked.” Public. Personal. Immediate. Outside of Nature. These are the typical characteristics of the Miracles of Christ.
In last Friday’s Conference, we concluded with the affirmation: “Jesus Christ really and truly did literal, authentic miracles.” What the Gospel Books record as Christ doing, He really did do. This is not just a blind statement of faith. The written record of these miraculous signs circulated already within the first generation after the events were supposed to have happened–when there were plenty of people still alive on earth who had seen them, or were close enough to those who had seen them to know that they were not just stories. Even the enemies of Christ did not deny that He performed great signs: they only denied that He did them by the power of God. In the antiChristian parts of the Jewish Talmud, Jesus of Nazareth is accused of having been a sorcerer of some kind in order to explain away His miracles which were too well-established as facts to be able to deny them all together.
The wholesale denial or explaining-away of Christ’s miracles is a distinctly modern and henceforth fairly recent development in the 2,000-year span of Christianity to date. Its first real appearance is in the 18th Century, at the time of the so-called “Enlightenment”. We think, for example, of Thomas Jefferson’s revision of the Bible, where he cuts out all of the references to the miraculous, and just leaves the ethical teachings of Jesus which appeal to him. At the time of the Lourdes Apparitions in 1858 the secular Paris newspapers, spread throughout France, periodically “would remind their readers that in those days of electric telegraphy and the steam engine it was absurd simplicity, stupidity and obscurantism to admit the possibility of apparitions and miracles.” (Trochu, Saint Bernadette Soubirous, TAN edition, pg. 68) And how many people there are in our own day who–though they may still self-identify as Christians–have more or less passively absorbed this reflexive skepticism about the Miracles of Christ. They seem to have no sense at all of the cultural culde-sac in which they’ve been stranded.
Given then that we take the Gospel Books, on a sound basis of reasoning, as a factual record of those people’s contemporary events, how many miracles did Jesus of Nazareth the Christ actually do? The answer is many–many, many, many miracles. It is simply not given to us to know their complete number. Twice, St. John the Divine makes reference to this towards the end of his Gospel. I will cite the first one here: (this is John 20, right after the account of how Thomas the Apostle, “Doubting Thomas”, was brought to faith in Christ’s divinity by verifying with his senses that Jesus was alive before him in a resurrected and glorified Body) “Many other signs also did Jesus in the sight of His disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God: and that believing, you may have life in His name.” (John 20:30-31)
What we have then across the four Books of the Gospels are selected accounts of Miracles the Lord Jesus performed. They are but a representative number, and they are meant to serve the purpose of announcing to the world the Gospel, that is, the “Good News” of salvation in Jesus Christ. And these representative miracles we can count and organize. (For this list I am indebted to the late Fr. John Hardon, S.J. You can find it in his Modern Catholic Dictionary under the heading, Miracles of Christ”.)
Fr. Hardon divides the recorded miracles of Christ into five classes. They are: 1) Nature Miracles, 2) Miracles of Healing, 3) Miracles of Deliverance of Demoniacs, 4) Victories over Hostile Wills, and 5) Cases of Resurrection. We can enumerate 9 Miracles of Nature, 20 special cases of healing which are recorded in some detail, 7 special cases of deliverance, 2 cases that appear to involve a supernatural display of power over hostile human wills, and 3 cases of resurrection. That’s 41 detailed cases of miracles in all.
Taken all together they show Jesus acting with great power and purpose. He is not acting willynilly, trying to dazzle the crowds with His wonder-working powers. Above all, He’s not in the business of trading miracles for faith. Anyone who demands a show of Jesus’ power as a condition for believing in Him will get nothing. The miracles are God’s condescension–taking account of human weakness and the human need to be shown the power of God to an extraordinary degree in order to validate the identity of Christ Jesus as the Divine Son of God at the very first beginnings of the Gospel. Such an extraordinary degree of the miraculous will not continue to be the life of the Church beyond its primitive stage of life. But even in that time of such great favor, the Lord will not do anything without a glimmer of good-will and openness to Him, as we will see further in next week’s Conference.