April 2, 2021
The miracle of forgiveness and relationships
Several times Jesus performs a miracle and instantly says, ‘Don’t tell anyone about it’. It seems that Jesus doesn’t want to be known as a miracle worker or to base His authority on working miracles.
Yet He does perform miracles, almost as if He cannot stop himself performing miracles when His compassion is engaged. This complex picture is made even more complex by the fact that He seems expect people to witness a miracle and draw conclusions from it. This is vivid in the story of a paralyzed man let down by His friends through the roof of the house in which Jesus is teaching. Jesus says to him, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ Some of the more religiously self-important bystanders say, ‘Who could possibly claim to forgive sins?’ And Jesus rounds on them and says, in effect, ‘Do you think it’s easier to forgive sins than to do miracles? Look, here’s a miracle – stand on your feet, you’re cured. That’s easy. The difficult thing is forgiving sins.’ So, in a strange way, the miracle here does not exactly become an afterthought but something quite subsidiary to the main point. What Jesus is saying is, ‘I am here to declare to you liberation from sin; and if you think that this is a matter of empty words easily said, think again.’
Jesus will not do miracles to prove a point or win arguments. The story of the healing of the paralyzed man does indeed show Jesus in a sense is performing a miracle to prove a point; but the point is that the miracle is not the point. The miracle is done so as to divert attention from the healing to the promise of forgiveness, to reinforce the idea that if a miracle is astonishing and difficult, the forgiveness of sins is yet more so. So when miracles do happen, they arise from that immediacy of compassion or indeed of anger, anger at the way in which sickness imprisons people, but also anger at the way in which religious zealotry cannot cope with the promise of redemption, putting the law over grace.
What Jesus himself refuses to do is to base His authority on ‘signs and wonders’. Again, the story about the paralyzed man is very telling in this respect. It is almost as if Jesus is saying that there are plenty of miracle workers, healers and exorcists; and, indeed, in the world in which Jesus lived, lots of people there were. It seems that Jesus is discouraging His audience from treating Him in this familiar and simple category – another charismatic healer – and challenging them to recognize what is unique in His mission. And that is something a good deal deeper than a miracle.
Jesus will perform miracles out of compassion – out of an awareness of human solidarity, we could say; but the other side of this is that He will require trust or belief from those with whom He works. Trust heals people. Jesus’ healings are always bound into a relation between him and the person to be healed. For a miracle itself, when it occurs, involves trust and relationship. It is never a kind of magic, a display of power and control.
So, when we ask for a “miracle” from Jesus, we must be ready to accept to enter into a relationship with Him.
Adapted for the Pastoral Thought from
Meeting God in Mark: Reflections for the Season of Lent
by Rowen Williams