Live…as if everything were a miracle

Readings from Scripture (CEB)  Mark 1:21-28

21 Jesus and his followers went into Capernaum. Immediately on the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and started teaching. 22 The people were amazed by his teaching, for he was teaching them with authority, not like the legal experts. 23 Suddenly, there in the synagogue, a person with an evil spirit screamed, 24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are. You are the holy one from God.”

25 “Silence!” Jesus said, speaking harshly to the demon. “Come out of him!” 26 The unclean spirit shook him and screamed, then it came out.

27 Everyone was shaken and questioned among themselves, “What’s this? A new teaching with authority! He even commands unclean spirits and they obey him!” 28 Right away the news about him spread throughout the entire region of Galilee.

Live…as if everything were a miracle

A man is recovering from surgery after a car crash, and he notices that both his hands are covered in casts. When a nurse comes to check on him, he asks “Will I be able to play piano after this?”

“Yes, the casts should come off in a few weeks, then you should be able to play.”

“That’s funny, I couldn’t play piano before the accident.”

I’ve never known what to do with Jesus’ miracles.  And it’s something that I have to deal with because there’s too many stories like the one today with Jesus teaching in the synagogue when

a person with an evil spirit screamed, 24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are. You are the holy one from God.” “Silence!” Jesus said, speaking harshly to the demon. “Come out of him!” 26 The unclean spirit shook him and screamed, then it came out.

Miracles are a bit of wishful thinking like the would-be piano player, as we yearn for something that isn’t necessarily possible. Though when I read a miracle story, and my gut tells me to rush to some rational/realistic explanation to demystify the miracle, my experience reminds me that miracles are real. 

Children can recover after heart surgery, cancer has treatment plans extend quality of life, covid vaccines can be developed in under a year (and because of that research gained, an HIV vaccine[1] or cancer vaccine might be possible).  There are miracles, but we just don’t call them that anymore.  Science has given us a better understanding as to what’s going on in our world as well as our bodies.  We’ve extended our lifespans, found cures to known diseases, we’ve learned how to treat suffering that in Biblical times would have seemed like demons, and when all else fails, when there’s unexplained stuff nowadays we say that a person “got lucky” or that “someone was watching over them.” Miracles known by other names.

But miracles can also look like children not needing any help with their online schooling.  Though if your kids are anything like mine, you’ll end up with the Junior Kindergartener giggling because he touched enough buttons to turn his camera around to show behind the iPad, revealing me sitting at the table with him, prompting me to say “please warn me before you do that Sam, because I may not have my pants on.” After hearing his teachers laugh, I realized he had his microphone on too.  I’m not sure if the miracle was that I was wearing pants, or the fact that I actually said all of that kindly to my son. 

Rational explanations of [miracle] stories that transcend natural laws [is not Mark’s concern, for we cannot conclude that] that Jesus is a mere popular magician… Instead, the meaning of the powerful act must be found by viewing it in terms symbolic reproduction of social conflict. [2]

If it’s not the Gospel writer’s goal to explain the miracle, then I’ll try to do the same.  I don’t need to dissect the divine in order for you to believe, because there’s still meaning within the miracle…meaning found in and through the story of this powerful act.  To get at that meaning we must dive in the reality that this story creates, namely that it affirms that evil exists. 

There are voices within us and outside us that wish us harm.  This person in Mark’s Gospel is dominated by a voice within them over which they have no power.  And while the words shared by this voice are not (perceptively) evil, this represents an impossible bondage – the evil within imprisons the person with no cure other than the miraculous.  This prison is not unlike the evils of this time, that come with labels such as addiction, racism, sexism, depression – things that would have been labelled demons at one point – all those ideas that hold us hostage and imprison us. 

In this time of pandemic some of these voices have grown stronger as when we’ve had nothing to do, we convince ourselves there’s no harm in another glass of wine, or two, or ten.  We’ve sought to numb those feelings of angst and frustration and despair – because ignoring the feelings and voices are easier.   But just because those feelings are commonplace, doesn’t mean they belong.  Just because the voices are loud, doesn’t mean they’re worth listening to. 

For Jesus cries out: Silence.  When those feelings take hold and fester within us – when those voices within us and outside us wish us harm, Jesus’ response is to call them out, and silence them.  Jesus doesn’t suffer fools or try to start a conversation, Jesus doesn’t give those voices any more airtime or focus – Jesus acknowledges our suffering, and silences all that wants to do us harm.  I want to believe that this is possible – if only the possibility exists somewhere and somehow that suffering will be alleviated. 

At the beginning of this pandemic, I spent a lot of time listening to government officials, and it seemed miraculous how partisanship and division melted away for the good of the people.  But as time passed, and as actions became less than virtuous, decisions less uniting, as those in power ceased listening to scientists and as vaccine distribution has been less than ideal, those little voices crept in…They don’t really know what they’re doing… they’re in somebody’s pocket…why are churches STILL meeting and breathing on one another – and Jesus cries out:  Silence…

I don’t think cynicism is any healthier than Pollyannaish[3] optimism.  I don’t think the answer is blind trust either, but I was struggling between having to choose between voices that neither felt right.  So I’ve been praying using the words of Ecclesiastes 7 (selected verses):

The end of something is better than its beginning.  Patience is better than arrogance…

14 When times are good, enjoy the good; when times are bad, consider: God has made the former as well as the latter so that people can’t discover anything that will come to be after them.

15 I have seen everything in my pointless lifetime: the righteous person may die in spite of their righteousness; then again, the wicked may live long in spite of their wickedness. 16 Don’t be too righteous or too wise, or you may be dumbfounded. 17 Don’t be too wicked and don’t be a fool, or you may die before your time. 18 It’s good that you take hold of one of these without letting go of the other because the one who fears God will go forth with both.

Don’t be too righteous, or too wise – don’t be overly cynical nor impossibly optimistic.  The truth lies somewhere in the middle.  Don’t believe that miracles are a religious vs. science fight waiting to happen, when the reality is somewhere in the middle.  Don’t believe that politicians have it all figured out, let alone pastors.  As we’ve all heard too much of the Pastor of Trinity Bible Chapel here in the Region, it was this week’s interview in the Record that I was surprised to find myself in agreement with (some of) his words:

“People … are desperate…The financial cost [and emotional cost of this pandemic is enormous]. People wondering how they’re going to pay the rent. Despair. I’ve never heard of this many suicides, ever. So many I’ve lost track. It’s terrible. You should ask the police how many suicides, wife beating and overdose calls they’re getting on the night shift.” [4]

All that I agree with – as this pandemic has been a breeding ground for all sorts of evils…the voices that convince us there is no future, there is no hope.  But it’s just not true.  While the end of something is better than the beginning it’s far easier to remember the beginning of this pandemic than it is to anticipate when the ending might come.  And so, strangely enough I found myself agreeing with the pastor.  But… when he said, “And then I’m being forbidden by our government to open our doors and give these people eternal hope when they need it the most.”[5]  That’s when Jesus cries out:  Silence…

See here’s the thing.  Jesus gives hope, faith gives hope, miracles give hope, the Scriptures give hope – but what I give, and what that pastor gives is just a familiar face.   I don’t give hope – I try to point to it where I see it.  And those voices that inflate my ego, my own self-importance to think that I’m the source of eternal hope, that I’m so righteous as to be without blame, these voices are no different than the one crying out to Jesus. 

So then…what (or where) is our hope?

In the story of Jesus, he cannot help but recognize our pain and suffering.  Jesus doesn’t pass by those imprisoned.  He sees the evil plaguing each of us, the voices keeping health and hope locked away, the pandemic causing harm to self and society, and calls them out.  The miraculous power of Christ is not in this exorcism, but in the unflinching way he stares into the abyss of evil and frees us.  The miraculous power of Christ is that even after two thousand years, with churches and pastors messing up and interpreting stories for their own gains, with fights between science and religion convincing us we have to choose sides, the power is in the possibility that miracles will still prevail.  For

I have refused to live
locked in the orderly house of
reasons and proofs.

The world I live in and believe in
Is wider than that. And anyway,
what’s wrong with Maybe?

from The World I Live In, Mary Oliver

Because maybe, Christ has power enough to save us.  May it be so. 


[1] https://qz.com/1955411/moderna-is-working-on-an-hiv-vaccine-after-its-covid-19-success/

[2] Myers, Ched, Binding the Strongman, p. 142                       

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Ihxyf7A1hg

[4] https://outline.com/4kkYk7  from The Record interview with Jacob Reaume

[5] ibid

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