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                                           Stories of Jesus                                           

Chapter 4: The Stories

         
Part One: Jesus before Easter

Some Jesus stories: the miracles

At one 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.

If Jesus 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.

John 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.

In Jesus’ day the human powers consisted of the Romans and the Jewish leaders, especially the high priest, put in place by the Romans. A cadre of bureaucrats, including tax collectors, would have interests pretty much aligned with these. The Jewish leaders didn’t see eye to eye with the Romans in many respects, but just like the Romans they would have wanted to keep things under control and running 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 with an excitable following could easily be seen as a threat.

Now Jesus comes along working miracles. No one doubted the miracles themselves. What interpretation to lay on the miracles was another story. It’s easy enough to see why, for the Jews who were in leadership positions, Jesus’ miracles would 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 interests.

It gets 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)

The 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) 

Pretty 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.

What are 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