MIRACLES AND PREACHING
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ACTS 14:5-18; JOHN 14:21-26 ]
When Judas asked Jesus, “Lord, what is all this about? Do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” he was perhaps expecting another great spectacular performance of our Lord to show forth His power. Indeed, most of us are like Judas. We want to see signs and portents. Indeed, Jesus remarked, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” (Jn 4:48) Even King Herod was curious. At the trial of Jesus, we read that “When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign.” (Lk 23:8) Many evangelists think that the most effective way to bring about conversion is the demonstration of miracles, especially healing. Indeed, all the big crusades and Christian rallies and gatherings are centered on miracles and healing. This is the way to get the crowd to attend and also to get funding. Catholics are no different. They would go to this shrine and that shrine to ask for miracles and healing. Many are obsessed with apparitions of our Lady and sometimes of our Lord. So the question is whether miracles and healing are necessary to proclaim the gospel message.
The reality is that miracles alone cannot bring people to faith. In fact, in the first reading, we read that the miracle of healing performed by Paul led to a misunderstanding of the message that Paul wanted to convey. Instead of being led to the Lord, they ended up worshipping him. They thought that Paul and Barnabas were the Greek gods that came to visit them again. Legend has it that when Zeus and Hermes visited the city, they found no hospitality except for one poor elderly couple who took them in. They destroyed all the inhabitants of that city and rewarded the elderly couple. That explains why they quickly offered them sacrifices.
This is true even in our times. Many people worship faith healers, not our Lord. Their faith is focused on the faith healer rather than on the Lord who heals. Many are superstitious simply because they are desperate for help. Being vulnerable, they are attracted to all kinds of faith healing. It is no better than those who seek bomohs and mediums for help. It must be noted that miracles and healings are not confined to the Christian faith alone. Even in other religions, there could also be healing miracles. It is no wonder that those who are simply focused on miracles will hop from one faith healer to another or from one shrine to another, or one religion to another. For such people, it is not a question of faith in God but they would worship any religion or healer that can give them what they want. Such so-called faith is a self-centered faith and a utilitarian faith. It does not change lives but makes them even worse than before.
That is the reason why our Lord never wanted to use miracles to prove Himself. He did not perform spectacular miracles to make His mission easier. Indeed, right at the start of His ministry, He was tempted by Satan to take the easy way out. He was asked to turn stones into bread. He was brought to the pinnacle of the Temple and asked to jump to reveal Himself as the Son of God. He was seduced to worship Satan so that He could have all the kingdoms of the world. (Cf Mt 4:1-11) Jesus performed miracles for the service of people and always out of compassion. It was never meant to be a display of power and glory. Thus, He completely ignored King Herod when he asked for a show of His miraculous powers. Jesus chose to proclaim the Kingdom of God in human lowliness, in poverty and in suffering. This is as St Paul would say, “To those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (1 Cor 1:24f)
On the other hand, we have those who disdain the use of miracles and healings to draw people to the Lord. For them, preaching is more important. To them, it is powerful preaching that will convict the people and they would turn to the Lord. Hence, we have some priests and preachers who give much emphasis and time to the work of preaching and teaching. Worse still, there are some who reduce the proclamation of the Good News to academic study of the faith. They spend hours debating and arguing over the doctrines of the Church, using all kinds of philosophical, sociological, scriptural and theological arguments. All these labour under the belief that preaching and teaching will change the minds of people and bring them to faith. I suspect sometimes, when we only preach and teach but do not minister in the power of the Holy Spirit in the healing ministry, it is because we lack faith in God’s power to heal today. What we have is only intellectual faith but we lack experiential faith in the power of God in our lives.
Precisely, when the Christian faith is reduced to an intellectual study based on reason alone, it loses its appeal to the masses. Only people who are educated and are self-sufficient in their needs have the time to study and speculate on doctrines and theology. The common people are worried about their food, a roof over their heads, their sources of livelihood, their health and jobs. When we cannot feel the presence of God in our lives and faith is reduced to mere doctrines alone, we will begin to wonder whether God exists at all and even if He does, He does not care for us and cannot help us. In such situations, there is no longer any reason why one should even worship Him at all. Without miracles, faith becomes rationalistic; it is true only in the mind. When we face real problems, doctrines and words cannot keep us alive.
So the truth lies between these two extreme positions. The gospel cannot be proclaimed merely by word alone or by deeds alone. The preaching of the Word must precede the miracle or follow the miracle. One cannot do away with the preaching of the Word but one cannot also do away with the importance of miracles in the work of conversion. Jesus not only asked the disciples to go and proclaim the Good News to all of creation but assured them that “these signs will accompany those who believe ….” (Mk 16:15-18) Jesus told the apostles, “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” (Mt 10:7f)
For miracles to be effective, it must be preceded by preaching, as in the case of St Paul. He healed only after preaching and faith was present in the crippled man. “He listened to Paul preaching, he managed to catch his eye. Seeing that the man had the faith to be cured, Paul said in a loud voice, ‘Get to your feet – stand up’, and the cripple jumped up and began to walk.” Only when Paul felt that the man had faith and was ready to acknowledge the Lord, did he then cure him. In asking Him to stand up, the cripple showed his faith in Christ through His obedience to the command of Paul. So the miracle was worked on account of the faith that was sown in the heart of the man through preaching.
However, it is possible for a miracle to take place first. But explanation must follow, without which no faith would be elicited. A case in point was when Peter healed the crippled beggar first and then explained the reason for the healing. “When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, ‘Look at us.’ And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, ‘I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” (Acts 3:3f) It was only later on that Peter explained that it was Jesus whom they crucified and raised by the Father that healed the lame man. (Acts 3:11-26)
In the final analysis, the purpose of miracles and preaching is to lead a person to the Lord. Healing miracles do not always happen. Otherwise, we would live for eternity on this earth. Those of us who are healed will one day fall sick again. More importantly, salvation is not just the body but also the soul, the entire being. It is to live the life of Christ in love.
Only by loving Jesus, can we live out the commandments of God not in a slavish manner but out of love for Him and His people. Hence, in the gospel Jesus said, “Anybody who receives my commandments and keeps them will be one who loves me; and anybody who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I shall love him and show myself to him.” When we share in His life of love and service, Jesus assures us, “my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him.” The Father and the Son dwelling in us in the Holy Spirit is what sharing in the Trinitarian life of God is all about. It is this life that alone can fulfill us. This is the promise of our Lord when He said, “I have said these things to you while still with you; but the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you.” The Holy Spirit dwelling in us will lead us to Jesus and to the Father.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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