Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The miracles of Jesus are not magic


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When the ancient Greeks first heard this Gospel story they certainly thought about Bacchus, one of their many gods, who was known for doing what Jesus did. The trouble was, Bacchus never had a good reason for doing so. Bacchus was a fertility god. The Greeks worshipped him in order to use magic, to get some kind of supernatural control over their agriculture. For the Greeks, the gods were neither respected nor trusted. They were only there to be used. That was the basic infrastructure of Paganism. And it comes from the Fall. The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge meant that people would try to know what was good or evil for themselves instead of knowing and trusting God.

Our Lord's mighty miracles were actions of order, not of chaos. Most of His miracles were doing quickly what God the Father normally does much more slowly. This was that kind of miracle. All wine is made from water. Usually it takes a long time for the combined natural and artificial process to make it into wine. Jesus took a shortcut because His host was in great need. The Bible tells us that there were pots for purification in the house - religious vessels the Jews used for washing before they sat down to eat. So for the first of His signs Jesus used two things -- plain, ordinary water and Jewish religious hardware. He did this at a wedding to remind us that God was with man in Eden. Here was one man who was not fallen. God was walking with His people. In the language of Revelation: Behold, the dwelling of God is with men.

Many of Jesus' miracles were of this type. Eventually the storm would have stopped, the human body would heal itself, the disciples would have caught all those fish. Jesus had good reasons for speeding it up. We can't take the same shortcuts, but that does not make them unnatural. After all, making the sun shine is beyond our power, but we don't call the sun unnatural. If Buddha had done these miracles we might well be skeptical, because he taught that material things were bad. But Jesus taught that material things were God's gifts to be prayed for daily and received with thanks. He did other kinds of miracles as well -- like exorcisms, and things that belong to the next life, like walking on the water and raising the dead. In the second kind He showed that He was more powerful than death or the devil. The prophets of Israel had predicted that the Messiah would raise the dead. Jesus obliged.

When we ask Jesus for blessings we don't usually mean that we expect miracles. We normally expect our prayers to be answered through the channels of Providence. As long as our faith is strong, this works just fine. We want God's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. But when our faith is weak we get anxious. Our back is against the wall. We find that we just can't be patient. The normal way is too slow, so we start looking for a Bacchus. We want supernatural help of our own choosing. We don't want to serve Bacchus, of course, quite the contrary. We want Bacchus to serve us. Nor do we call him by that name. We probably turn first to the Prince of Technology. He is a safe demon, one that everybody else calls on. We don't want to get too high in the infernal hierarchy. We never want to lose control of the situation, which would happen if we tried to do business with them or powerful Evil Ones.

I am not saying that all technology is bad. Technology wavers in a blurred area between our stewardship of Providence and a rather patient form of elementary witchcraft. It has given us vaccines; and it has given us atomic bombs. If we enter upon our use of technology with prayer, dedicate its fruits to God, and be content with our daily bread, we can use technology to the glory of God. But look out! The further we stray from that pattern, the more diabolical it gets. Some people are too impatient for technology. They want fast magic, which means they seek chaos. The irony of it is, those who wish to be God move further and further from their rightful thrones as His children until they are out of reach forever.

There are cynical people who confuse prayer with superstition. Consider Herod in the Passion story. He wanted Jesus to put on a magic show, to abuse His divine power to entertain Herod's guests. Bacchus would certainly have done that. The Gospel tells us that Jesus would not even speak to Herod. So it is for those who want to use Jesus instead of genuinely interacting with Him. Don't imitate Herod! Jesus wants you to come up from Paganism to faith, from using the gods to trusting the Lord. When you behold the Winemaker of Cana, don't picture Bacchus incarnate preparing for a wild night in the hills. Think of Jehovah incarnate, doing quickly what He usually does at length. He is not a sinner. That is what we needed above all, a blameless, sinless Substitute. He is the Lamb without blemish who made perfect atonement. He is Immanuel, repairing the damage of the Fall, coming down to walk with his creatures who could not rise to walk with Him. He is not Moses bringing us another Law. Moses turned water into blood to serve God's Law. Jesus comes in grace, giving us access to the Father in heaven. Behold, the dwelling of God is with men.

This has consequences when we consider how to worship Jesus. If He is like Bacchus, then we might want to "get high on Him," as some claim to do today, to worship in irrational ways so that we feel more important than we are. Remember this is the God who gave us commandments. Worship Him with mind and heart -- humble mind and contrite heart. Be sure the heart is broken and contrite. We have sins to confess. We seek His forgiveness. Take hold of His teachings, remember His victory. Stay connected to Him by Word and Sacrament.

This also has consequences as to how we consider the natural world. If Jesus is like Bacchus, we'll just keep on inventing more and more technology to exploit our fellow creatures, particularly our fellow men. But if Jesus is Jehovah, then we will use our reason and knowledge to bless our fellow creatures, particularly our fellow men. He is our example here. He refused to turn stones into bread, but He multiplied loaves in the desert. So when we learn of a new machine, we should ask ourselves does this turn stones into bread, or does it multiply loaves? Avoid the first kind. The second is probably doing the Lord's work. We need to learn to wait. One day He will enthrone us as kings and queens. That's what He wants to do. It is enough now to walk with Him as He walks with us, present in His Church as He was in Cana long ago. The wine He provides for us is His own blood, which cleanses us from all sin. The bread He provides is His body, crucified, dead, and resurrected. Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. AMEN.

~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

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