In the years after being president, Thomas Jefferson went about some painstaking work. With scissors and razors, he took to his bible, probably 2 Bibles because, printed on 2 sides, and it cut it apart. On one side goes the miracles, the miraculous, the signs and wonders, and on the other went everything else. It is that second pile that he reassembled into what he called “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth,” completed in 1820. He found the miraculous healing and feeds at best not helpful, at worst lies, and decided that the teachings and morals still had value.
Here’s the thing, I kind of get that instinct.
I think our miracle stories are hard. Miraculous healing seems so rare these days that it’s hard to understand when they seem so common in Jesus’ ministry. Was this a thing that happened 2000 years ago? Were people often just standing up and walking after they hadn’t been for decades? And why doesn’t it happen now all the time? Or, it might seem, ever.
When I was at church camp when I was young, my counselor told a story of being in some poor, far off country, and they, her and the other college students she was traveling with, maybe, prayed over and with someone, who didn’t speak the same language, whom they learned was blind, and their eyes had turned yellow. But when these students’ prayers were over, the person’s eye had turned white again, and through translators learned they could see. That became the goal: heal everyone. But they always come in 3rd person: stories of a friend of a friend, stories of ancient saints in dusty books. stories of someone else.
Which leaves us with questions of why not me? Why not the person I love? Why not the way that I had hoped? Were my prayers not enough? Was my faith not enough? Did I do something to deserve this? And sometimes it just becomes easier to let it go, like Jefferson chalk it up to metaphor and unnecessary, or those “ignorant people” in the past who didn’t understand physiology or psychology.
Miracle stories, miraculous healing stories are hard.
I was asked a couple of years ago what does one learns in Seminary to become a pastor. the person to asked if it was “memorizing scripture.” I don’t remember if I laughed out loud or not but that answer amuses me, although maybe ought to embarrass me, because memorization is not required. Like many degree programs, there is a significant portion that is used to teach about what and how to research–knowing that even in 3 years you can’t cover everything and we’ll spend the rest of our lives learning. That is to buffer the following statement: I don’t think I’ve spent a lot of time focused on the Gospel of John, and certainly not moving through it in order. In what many other mainline churches you’ll find use of the Revised Common Lectionary, the 3-year cycle, and John is scattered in throughout all three years, like its whole purpose is to season and support the other gospels, not stand on its own. So I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about what Jesus is trying to do throughout this gospel. And when we get to these places where Jesus says that you, which is better translated as “y’all” or “yousus” as my Upper Peninsula family would say, it’s a collective, when Jesus says “y’all need signs and wonders,” we, like the translators, have a choice–a choice of tones and emotions. I will always like the idea of sassy Jesus, who might get an attitude with the religious leaders, when he answers their questions in a way that they don’t like but they can’t fight against because it technically falls within the tradition.
But this is only the second miracle, sign as the Gospel writer calls them, and neither time does it seem that Jesus is going into it 100% convinced. Mary had to convince Jesus to do something about the wine in this town earlier in the story. Jesus has talked before about they, them, us, everyone, won’t believe without signs and wonders. And then he does them. It’s as if he doesn’t want the signs and wonders to be the reason that people believe in what he is saying, about what he is claiming about God and life, but that he has resigned himself to the reality that people really like proof. Maybe Jesus was annoyed by that fact, speaking in frustrated tones. Or maybe Jesus was just working out the reality of the situation naming how the world seems to work for us, maybe Jesus was reminding himself of what he needed to do and why.
Even still, in these stories, these healings aren’t really made a big deal by Jesus. He doesn’t go to see to heal the boy. He slips back into the crowd when the man takes his mat and walks in the opposite direction of the pond. What if the miracle wasn’t the point? What if these signs point to what Jesus was really doing and speaking and teaching about?
What if the miracle was the small things?
The first thing the man at the pond did was go to the temple. He had been incapable of getting to the pond so the temple was out of the question, so participating in the rites and rituals and sacrifices that connected his people to God was out of the question. He couldn’t get to the healing and he couldn’t get to where he knew he could meet God. So the first thing he did when he could, when he could walk, when he could move, when he could be anywhere else in the whole world was the temple, to the place he knew he could meet God, to the place where community gathered, to the place where he would be in community. What if that is the miracle? Restoration with relationships, with community, with worship and ritual, with relationship with God. And when Jesus sees him there, he tells him to no sin so that which has been healed doesn’t happen again. In this story, for Jesus, sin is that which divides us from God, what is healed in this man’s relationships. What is worse? Isolation with no ability to reconcile. What does Jesus bring? The hope of reconciliation.
Do you see the miracle? Do you see what is healed? Do you see what it points to? The official believed what Jesus told him, that his son lived. But the miracle wasn’t really true, not really known, until he started traveling home, until his servant told him that his son was well that he really knew what had happened. Relationships were renewed, life was restored to the boy, but also to his father. Maybe faith or belief isn’t an all at once, one time happening but grows and changes every day. Maybe miracles are about life renewed. Maybe miracles are uncovered, discovered, revealed, known in community.
Maybe there are miracles and healings around us every day. Maybe miracles of healing aren’t flashy. Maybe that’s why we miss them so often, because we’re looking for the big healing. And it must happen right, somewhere, some time. But it seems to me that Jesus was trying to point us to the smaller miracles, the everyday miracles, of lives renewed, relationships reconciled, communities restored.
We find them in the stories we tell, of making it through one more day without giving into addiction or starting new again tomorrow when we didn’t. It’s stories of families connecting after years of silence. It’s choosing not to repay anger and hatred with more anger and hatred.
We see miracles of healing the earth in replanting native plants in fields and forests and pastures. We see miracles of healing relationships in recounting of wrongs and restorations of relationships with Indigenous people. and miracles when we stand together to fight for earth, clean water, safe air.
We see miracles of healing the body in medical advancements and medicines and vaccines and we see miracles in people who are able to access them without bankrupting their families and in those who are advocating for those who can’t.
We see miracles of healing communities and futures when kids come out and their families just keep loving them. And if they can’t, we see miracles in chosen families rallying around them.
So, maybe miracles, maybe healing looks different than we thought. In Bruce Almighty, a movie now too old to be considered pop culture, Morgan Freeman, who plays God says to Bruce: “…be the miracle.” Be part of the work of Healing the earth, healing communities, healing relationships. healing our hearts, healing each other. The work of renewing life, reconciling relationships, restoring communities.
In December of 2015 in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, just over yonder, because the center of controversy. The school district had planned on reading the book “I Am Jazz,” by and about Jazz Jennings, a transgender young person, in response to one of their kindergarteners coming out as transgender and presenting as a girl. Someone was upset, filed a lawsuit, so the school caved. You know who didn’t cave? The public library, who hosted 2 readings of the book and discussions. Mount Horeb rallied around the child, the family, and the LGBT community. Mount Horeb… known for trolls. That is a miracle of healing for a community.
And I bring it up because there is an opportunity for us to be the miracle. It seems like the name of the game in the world these days is to create division, to form sides, to rile people up. The Oconomowoc Common Council spent a long time in December debating whether or not a book called “Are you a Boy or Are you a Girl” should be in the public library. And there’s no debate, the Common Council doesn’t get to curate the library’s collection, but you and I know that this isn’t about a book.
There are hundreds of ways and places that we can be the miracle, to bring healing to the earth, ourselves, our communities, to bring renewal and reconciliation and restoration. And everyone of them are important and I want to talk about all of them, but we can’t be here all day. So, maybe we pick this one. We can’t convince the person who was upset that he shouldn’t be. But we can restore some faith in this Lake Country’s LGB and particularly the T community. Rally around them, restore the community to them, remind them they are not alone, they don’t have to hope for community alone, they don’t have to wait alongside the lake hoping that they are allowed in. I’m not sure how that miracle might look, but maybe we’re all a part of it. And that is the miracle story I want to tell. Those are the kinds of stories I want to tell. The miracles of healing we experience and create together.