|Part One: Jesus before Easter
Some Jesus stories: the miracles
point in the Gospel of John, Jesus says more or less this to a skeptical crowd:
“If you don’t believe on my say-so that “I am in the Father and the Father is
in me,” believe because of the works that I do. (John 14:11) John, writing some
60 years after the events, had time to meditate on who Jesus was—a lot more
time than Jesus himself had. Apparently Jesus was so totally focused on his
world and his mission in fulfillment of God’s will that he didn’t spend time
meditating on who he was.
really did appeal to his works as evidence for belief, the believing he had in
mind was probably not so much about himself as about the Father and the
beginnings of the Father’s reign on earth. If we grant that Jesus’ works
included some feats that would have astounded people, we have to wonder: Why
didn’t they believe? Answering that question tells us some more about God and
about why Jesus eventually was killed.
Dominic Crossan has made a study of the phenomenon of miracle in various
cultures. (Especially in The Historical
Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, e.g., p. 157) He concludes that working miracles is
a subversive activity. It always shows God acting independently of the “powers
that be.” Such powers often feel threatened by the miraculous. They’re not as
much in control as they like to imagine.
day the human powers consisted of the Romans and the Jewish leaders,
the high priest, put in place by the Romans. A cadre of bureaucrats,
tax collectors, would have interests pretty much aligned with these.
leaders didn’t see eye to eye with the Romans in many respects, but
the Romans they would have wanted to keep things under control and
smoothly and peacefully. From their point of view existence in the
Roman Empire was tolerable enough. From that point of view, too,
keeping in mind
how much hatred most of the people harbored for the Romans, any figure
excitable following could easily be seen as a threat.
comes along working miracles. No one doubted the miracles themselves.
interpretation to lay on the miracles was another story. It’s easy
see why, for the Jews who were in leadership positions, Jesus’ miracles
evoke something besides believing that “I am in the Father and the
Father is in
me.” They like another theory much better: "By the power of Beelebul,
the prince of demons [and prince of the civil chaos that in volatile
Judea could erupt any time], he drives out demons." (Luke 11:) These
Jewish leaders knew the power and ruthlessness of Rome and may actually
have been thinking about everybody's safety as well as their own
worse. It isn’t just Jesus who works miracles. Jesus sends out 70 or so of his followers throughout all
the towns and villages to announce the Kingdom’s coming. And they come back
with reports of lots more miracles: “Lord, even the demons are subject to us
because of your name.” (Luke 10:17)
powerful ones have so much more to worry about now. Power is spreading around
and who knows where it will stop? The great prayer attributed to Mary in Luke’s
introduction to his Gospel says it all:
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up
the lowly. (Luke 1:52)
soon there just may not be any point to having power. Nobody will be able to
exercise it over anybody else. Or power comes to mean something very different
from what we normally think.
we to think of God’s power then? Christians typically think of the making of
the universe out of nothing as a display of infinite power. After all, there’s
an infinite distance between nothing and something. But the Bible doesn’t
always present creation as making. Sometimes it’s giving birth, sometimes
calling into being or simply letting be, as in “Let there be light.”
Thinking about the main point: We typically feel most like a god when we are in control. Does
God value being in control the way we do? Maybe for God power is totally boring
unless it’s shared.
On to Glutton and Drunkard