Posted by: Ken Brown | January 19, 2010

The Simplicity of Jesus’ Miracles

The Resurrection of Christ - Paolo Veronese

"The Resurrection of Christ" by Paolo Veronese

Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jarius came and, when he saw [Jesus], fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” So he went with him…

When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” with means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk around. (Mark 5:22-24, 38-42 NRSV)

Maybe I’ve read too much fantasy or played too many video games, but this isn’t how I’d imagine a resurrection to look. If Jesus is going to raise someone from the dead, I expect them to be bathed in holy light; I expect a choir of angels singing a heavenly chorus; I expect the earth to quake and the stars to dim.

Instead, Jesus takes her hand, and she wakes. No elaborate incantations or intricate rituals, no long-winded prayers or solemn pronouncements, no supernatural voice or heavenly trumpets; he simply says “Little girl, get up!”

For her part, she doesn’t float to the sky and start speaking in tongues, she doesn’t strain at the bonds and convulse in her bed, sunbeams don’t blast from her body and send onlookers running; she simply gets up and walks around.

Jesus could be waking her from an afternoon nap, for all the fuss they make.

I’ve read a lot of miracle stories–Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, ancient, modern, in the Bible and outside it–and these are the sort that strike me as plausible. The “miracle-worker” who puts on a show, lifts up his hands and knocks people to the floor (then asks for a tithe); he’s nothing but a con-man. But the cancer that just isn’t there anymore, the infant who wasn’t expected to survive, the brain-dead patient who suddenly wakes up, these are the ones that ring true. Yet they are so subtle, you could never even prove a miracle happened. Was there ever cancer to begin with? Was the test wrong? Was the girl really dead at all?

Jesus’ miracles are striking for their simplicity. He breaks bread and everyone has enough. Loaves don’t fall from the sky and no one sees fish leaping from empty baskets; there is simply enough. He heals ten lepers, and we never see the miracle, he just tells them to go to the priest, and somewhere along the way they find themselves whole. Maybe that’s why the Gospels never describe Jesus’ own resurrection–there was nothing to see. He was dead, and now he is alive, and that is all the fanfare he needs.

All that fantasy, light and power and magic, it’s all a farce (or, more sympathetically, a metaphor). That’s what we might expect of a god playing at being human, but that’s not generally what we find in the Gospels. Here we are told that the God who made humanity has become human, fully and completely, and his miracles attest to that–not by their spectacle, but by their subtlety.

The fanfare, the show, that just hides the fact that we all know these things are impossible, but Jesus’ isn’t hiding; it’s like he knows something we don’t. Probably because he does.


Responses

  1. Ken, this is simply a powerful post

  2. Thanks Joel!

    It’s funny how the best posts always seem to be unplanned. This one just came to me yesterday morning when I was reading Matthew 9.

  3. Maybe you’ve just seen too many dramatic portrayals of Jesus’ resurrection!

  4. The lack of fanfare also adds to my confidence in the reality of the narrative. Any good fake resurrection would have been more spectacular. It takes a real one to be this (dare I use a word like this?) ordinary.

    • Exactly, as evidenced by Matthew’s clear tendency to add such spectacular details where Mark lacks them (though even Matthew leaves the story of Jarius’ daughter unadorned). Actually, the elaborations seen especially in Matthew–e.g. guards and “a great earthquake” at the resurrection–could warrant a post all their own.

  5. You also don’t see Jesus promising people wealth for giving him money. He just walks about doing good, calling out hypocrites, and doing healings matter-of-factly. Even the transfiguration, majestic as it may be, tells us almost nothing except that he “was changed in form” and shined and had a conversation.

    And, by the way, I found your site through a link to your old blogspot blog. I commend your keeping up the dead site.


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