What is the point of miracles?

Last Sunday we saw Peter and John cure a crippled man on their way to Temple, and we talked about their faith, their hearts, being “tuned” right to channel the Holy Spirit in that miracle. Today, we pick back up with Peter and John in Acts, and with all the apostles in the Gospel reading, with some more miracles.

The stories of these miracles are, I think, universally taught in children’s Sunday School classes, and I loved them as a kid. I think most of us do. They impart a sense of wonder, and the reassurance that if we have to put on those stuffy clothes on Sunday, at least it’s to hear about someone who can raise the dead.

But, as adults, we’re taught something different. We’re taught by the world, and sometimes by the Church itself, to approach the miracles, and certainly contemporary miracles, with caution, if not a deep-seated skepticism — even contempt. We may hear the miracle accounts, old and new, and take the safe path, saying something like “Oh, isn’t that nice,” without committing to belief or disbelief. Or, we take an absolute path, declaring all miracle accounts malarkey, and if you believe them you’re either incredibly naive or deluded. And, of course, there are those of us who believe deeply in miracles, and wonder, in anguish, why we can’t do the same, and cure our loved ones, or raise our loved ones from the dead.

I was steered to this topic by a social media post I read this week, from a Christian pastor who was very derisive, almost cruel, about his father’s belief in miracles. The scene was at the funeral for his grandfather — his father’s father. And as they were there at the funeral, the pastor’s father said something to the effect that if they had the faith of the apostles, they would be able to raise grandpa from the dead. Now, that’s at least partially biblically sound. But, this pastor related this story from the funeral, as well as the fact his father went around praying under his breath, and came to a harsh conclusion — that his father obviously suffered from sort of horrible psychosis, because you’d have to be absolutely looney to believe and act in this way.

Reading that pastor’s post, I was struck with two questions. Why can’t we still perform miracles, like those in the Bible? And, why did Jesus and the apostles show us all these miracles, if we were going to be left without the ability to perform them today? Now, I don’t teach, like some do, that miracles were isolated to Jesus and the apostles, and Christ closed the book on such things after the apostolic age. No. Without a belief in miracles, it makes no sense for us to come in here and pray for St. Peregrine to intercede on behalf of our loved ones who suffer from cancer, or for St. Maximilian to intercede for those who struggle with addiction. Certainly, some call us delusional, even heretical, for making such intercessory prayers, but our belief in the power of faith and prayer is as deeply rooted in our Church today as it was for the early Christians.

But, we aren’t satisfied with intercessory prayers, and for most of us, we aren’t satisfied when we pray fervently for intercession, and we don’t receive the outcome we wanted for ourselves or our loved ones. What we really want is our reading from Acts 5. It tells us “many signs and wonders were done among the people at the hands of the apostles,” and people carried the the sick “out into the streets and laid them on cots and mats so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on one or another of them.” Simply by Peter’s shadow passing over them, their ills are cured. That’s the power we want, and the Bible, and stories of saints up to present day, tell us that’s possible.

But still, our loved ones get sick. We get old. Our bodies die. Consider this: Everybody who was healed by Jesus, by Peter, John and the other apostles — eventually, every single one of them, their bodies withered and died. Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead. Eventually, Lazarus’ body withered and died. So what’s the point? Why perform these miracles, why cure all these people, if their bodies are just going to age and die anyway? What is the point when we see miracles today? I think, as usual, the point is that we’ve missed the point. You see, healing of the physical body isn’t really the point, either in the Bible, or when our prayers of intercession lead to healing.

In today’s Gospel account of St. Thomas, we get an illustration of the real point behind miracles. Thomas famously declares to the other apostles (who had their own doubts), “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger into the nail marks, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” He needs a physical sign of the miracle of Christ’s resurrection. So, Christ gives it to him. Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Jesus gives Thomas a physical bridge — a miracle — to reach spiritual belief.

John confirms this at the end of today’s Gospel reading: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.” We don’t need to see or even know every miracle, John is saying. We only need enough to lead us in the right direction.

And that’s really what miracles are. They are signposts pointing toward God. But they aren’t the path itself, and they certainly aren’t the destination. The destination is to be one with Christ. To be one with God. And we are all headed there. But to get there, we have to complete this journey. And this journey includes a lot of joy and beauty, but also pain, suffering, and eventually, for all of us, the death of our body.

But the death of the body, really, is just a part of that path. And the path leads to the true miracle: the Risen Lord. Jesus tells us in today’s reading from Revelation: “Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last, the one who lives. Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever.” We have life in Christ — life that transcends death itself. That is the true miracle, and every other miracle is simply a sign pointing in that direction.

So, can we perform miracles? Yes, we absolutely can. Every time we make ourselves a living signpost, pointing toward Christ, we become the miracle. We become the miracle point toward God, who is love. When you show someone love, you show them the path to God, and that path was the whole point of the miracles in the first place. So be miraculous. And show this broken world the path of love.

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