PARISH LENTEN MISSION 2018: "THE MIRACLES OF CHRIST"
Conference IV, Friday, March 16, 2018 A.D.
“And the Passover of the Jews was at hand: and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the Temple them that sold oxen and sheep and doves and the changers of money sitting. And when He had made, as it were, a scourge of little cords, He drove them all out of the Temple, the sheep also and the oxen: and the money of the changers He poured out, and the tables He overthrew. And to them that sold doves He said: Take these things hence, and make not the House of My Father a house of traffic. And His disciples remembered that it was written: Zeal for Thy House hath consumed me. The Jews, therefore, answered and said to Him: What sign dost Thou show unto us, seeing Thou dost these things? Jesus answered and said to them: Destroy this Temple; and in three days I will raise it up. The Jews then said: Six and forty years was this Temple in building: and wilt Thou raise it up in three days? But He spoke of the Temple of His Body. When therefore He was risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this: and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had said. Now when He was at Jerusalem at the Passover, upon the festival day, many believed in His name, seeing His signs which He did. But Jesus did not trust Himself unto them: for that He knew all men, and because He needed not that any should give testimony of man: for He knew what was in man”–John 2:13-25
At the conclusion of last Friday’s Conference we identified three particular qualities of Our Lord’s Miracles. They are, first of all, directed miracles: Christ is not making any wanton display of His wonder-working powers in order to impress the crowd. Second, Christ did not use His miracles for the sake of publicity, or reputation-building. We see this exemplified, at the end of the Gospel passage I have just read, in Jesus’ stone-cold indifference to all the popular acclaim He is receiving at the moment: “But Jesus did not trust Himself unto them: for that He knew all men, and because He needed not that any should give testimony of man: for He knew what was in man.” Third, these directed Miracles of Christ showed forth the mysterious reality of outward signs of inward grace. Their good effect is confirmed when particular individuals, caught up in the miracle, accept Christ’s call to conversion in their hearts. And when this happens, the sign is complete. The human soul has accepted the inward grace that was offered.
Divine Grace is likened in the Scriptures to the rain falling from heaven and giving life to the parched earth. It has the potential to make everything holy. But it can be resisted by the human will. That is to say, an individual can refuse the good effects of grace for himself.
This is what we are seeing in the various reactions of the people in the Gospels to Christ’s Miracles. Many people in the crowds are caught up in the spectacle of miracle-working but they do not become reliable disciples or believers in Christ. Others, and their number is not small, are hardened in their hearts against Jesus by the Miracles. By comparison to these two groups, relatively few are the people who heed Christ’s call to “repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). The Gospel accounts shows us (and the record of the primitive Church re-enforces that picture): many enthusiasts, a hard-core of naysayers, and a “little flock”.
In so many ways this three-fold division is continued from age to age. We see it now as then.
We can understand more easily the boom-andbust attitude of the enthusiasts. It’s a very human emotion. Here they are, seeing this Jesus of Nazareth doing signs and wonders such as no man has ever done, and right in front of them! The most dramatic examples are the two occasions when Christ miraculously multiplied loaves of bread. On the one occasion He fed 5,000 (Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 9, John 6), and on the other He fed 4,000 (Matthew 15, Mark 8). In both cases, however, the enthusiasm is for the way in which Christ satisfied physical hunger. But when the Lord tries to lead them further into what will be the Mystery of His own Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist, the many want no part of it. As we read in St. John’s Gospel, “After this many of His disciples went back and walked no more with Him.” (John 6:67).
It’s as if they are saying, “Just keep giving us the Miracles, Jesus!” They are not really interested in anything else. They have become addicted to the miracle-working, hanging in suspense for the next great thing Jesus might do, living in expectation of a spectacular, cataclysmic, unimaginable Something to come from all of these events. And when that “Something” doesn’t materialize?.....well, these people then lose interest, and they go on with their lives pretty much as before. Hyped-up enthusiasm is impossible to sustain over the long-term anyways. What was needed was their conversion of heart to a new way of living for the Kingdom of God. But they were not converted.
Perhaps more difficult to grasp is the hatred towards Christ from the hard-core group of nay-sayers. Why are they going to such great lengths to make His miracle-working a bad thing? They throw every kind of malicious slur at him, however preposterous it might be. They even accuse Him of being some kind of sorcerer! “Jesus was casting out a devil, and the same was mute. And when He had cast out the devil the mute man spoke, and the multitudes were in admiration at it. But some of them said: He casteth out devils by Beelzebub, the prince of devils. And others, tempting, asked of Him a sign from heaven.” (Luke 11:14-16)
The Gospel account of the Cleansing of the Temple is considered to be, among other things, a Miracle of Christ displaying supernatural power over hostile human wills. How could Jesus of Nazareth get away with what He was doing there? And yet, He did. But were it not for Christ using His divine power to neutralize them, they would have done Him violence then and there.
But we can, with a little effort, feel our way into these men’s thinking. They were proud men. They saw themselves as the rightful rulers over the people in religious matters. Jesus of Nazareth, a poor carpenter from the Galilee, without any money, family connections, or grandeur–the very idea that He might be the Messiah offended them to the core. They would never submit to that! And so, no miracle could ever have convinced them.
How moving then it is to read of the individuals of the “little flock” who are converted to Christ by miraculous signs: Mary Magdalene, “out of whom seven devils were gone forth” (Luke 8:2) , the Centurion whose slave-boy was healed, “Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof (Matt. 8:8), the nobleman in Galilee whose son’s deadly fever was cured by Jesus’ word from afar, “and he himself believed, and his whole house.” (John 4:53), the woman healed from an issue of blood by touching the hem of Christ’s garment (Mark 5:25-34), whom tradition identifies as St. Veronica and who repaid Christ by wiping His bloodied face on the Way of the Cross to Calvary...these are the individual souls who experienced the miraculous touch of God in their lives and believed.
So, we should not imagine then that if only we could have seen the Miracles Christ did in the Gospels, then, of course, we should believe unwaveringly. The very record of the Gospel itself shows differently: many who saw those miracles were still not converted and went on with their lives as before, others were hardened into the worst kind of pride because Jesus of Nazareth didn’t “fit” their idea of God. Only those of the “little flock” whose hearts were really touched by His grace and who responded to Jesus with loving gratitude and humble faith –only they found the true blessing of Christ’s Miracles.