You get pretty used to the idea that Jesus worked miracles, don’t you? I do. But one of the readings at Catholic Mass for a weekday during the first of the four weeks of Advent really pricked my ears:
Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, went up on the mountain, and sat down there.
Great crowds came to Him, having with them the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute, and many others.
They placed them at His feet, and He cured them.
The crowds were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the deformed made whole, the lame walking, and the blind able to see, and they glorified the God of Israel. (Gospel According to Matthew 15:29-31)
What caught my ear this time were the phrases “the deformed…and many others” and “the deformed [were] made whole.”
Jesus Made People with Deformities Whole
What kinds of deformities might the people have had that were “made whole”? It’s one thing to cure blindness – which frankly I’m used to -- and quite another to make an eye for someone who never had one or who had lost his or her eye. It’s one thing to cure deafness – again which frankly I’m used to -- but quite another to fashion an ear to someone who had never had one from birth or who had lost it.
It’s one thing to say to a man who is lame or paralyzed, “Get up and walk!” and have him immediately get up, not only curing whatever the medical cause was but also giving full and immediate strength to atrophied muscles. (For example, there is the description of one that “immediately he stood up in front of them.” (Luke 5:18-26)). It is quite another to give a man or woman or child a leg he or she never had from birth or who had lost it.
So Jesus fashioned eyes, ears, tongues, arms, legs, toes, fingers, teeth, noses. You’ll recall that He restored a “withered hand”:
He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. (Matthew 12:9-14, Mark 3:1-6, Luke 6:6-10)
In addition, Luke’s Gospel says that, on the night of His arrest, Jesus restored the ear of a man that had been severed. (Luke 22:45-54). Another example of a deformity that Jesus restored and “made whole” was leprosy. Leprosy results in shortened fingers and toes and misshapen ears and noses. (You can find images on the Web.) On one occasion, Jesus cured one man of leprosy (Mark 1:40-45; Luke 5:12-15) and on another occasion ten men (Luke 17:11-19). I have just written above that it is one thing to restore sight to a man with an eye and another thing to give a man a working eye who doesn’t have one. On the other hand, a miracle is a miracle is a miracle. Something is either a miracle or it is not, eh?
In the portion of Matthew’s Gospel I quoted at the beginning, Matthew refers to “many other” conditions and diseases that manifested themselves in various ways to the sufferers and their friends and relations. These included mental illness, and we might imagine such conditions as respiratory ailments, burned faces and hands, spina bifida, dysentery, clubfeet, lisp, stutter, rashes and blisters, and malaria. And there’d be the “childhood” diseases of whooping cough, tetanus, and diphtheria. (Meditating on these childhood diseases can give another level of meaning to Jesus’ words, “Let the children come to Me….He laid His hands on them…” (Matt. 19:14-15; Mark 10:14-16))
Not all of the “many other” conditions and diseases would be visible to the naked eye of strangers. One would be infertility. While the condition would not be visible to the naked eye, friends and family who knew couples who were not blessed by children would know. Jesus Himself was familiar with the condition since His mother’s cousin, Elizabeth, had suffered from it. I wonder how many people were cured by Jesus of this, often without their knowing. It would be a hidden miracle.
One example of a condition not visible to the naked eye is shown by the woman who suffered from internal bleeding:
And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. (Mark 5:25-26; see also Matthew 9:20-22, Luke 8:43-48)
People in the crowd at the time did not notice her cure. She, on the other hand, knew that, after she touched Jesus’ cloak, the “the source of the bleeding dried up instantly, and she felt in herself that she was cured of her complaint.” (Mark 5:29)
Friends and Relatives Brought Their Loved Ones to Jesus
While I am trying to take a fresh look, with you, at Jesus’ miracles, I think it is worthwhile to observe how many times friends and relatives brought their loved ones to Jesus. Of course, they did. Which of us would not bring our loved ones to a person with a reputation of healing powers? There are individual instances mentioned in the Gospels:
• Some people brought a blind man to Him. (Mark 8:22)
• Four men raised their paralyzed man to a roof, cut a hole into it, and then lowered him to Jesus Who was speaking in the home. (Matt. 9:1-8; Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26)
• People brought a man who was deaf with a speech impediment to Him. (Mark 7:32)
• The father of a boy with epilepsy brought the boy to Him. (Mark 9:17; Luke 9:38)
And there are several reports in the Gospels of large numbers of people bringing their friends and relatives to Him:
• Matthew 15:29-31, quoted at the beginning of this essay;
• Luke 4:40 (and Matt. 8:16): At sunset all those who had friends suffering from one kind of disease or another brought them to Him and laying His hands on each He cured them.
• Mark 6:53-56 (and Matt. 14:34-36): Having made the crossing, they came to land at Gennesaret and tied up [the boat]. No sooner had they stepped out of the boat than people recognized Him, and started hurrying all through the countryside and brought the sick on stretchers to where they heard He was. And wherever He went, to village, or town or farm, they laid down the sick in the open spaces, begging Him to let them touch even the fringe of His cloak. And all those who touched Him were cured.
I think the accounts of large numbers of people being cured suggests that we should “go big” in our prayers. In praying for just one sick person, especially invoking a Venerable or Blessed so that a cure will make the Venerable or Blessed eligible for canonization as a saint, we are way too timid. Here is an example of what I mean: Several people pray outside a children’s hospital, asking God to work a miracle to reveal that such-and-such a deceased person is a saint. The miracle for which the people pray is the cure of every single patient, every single doctor and nurse, every single employee, and every single visitor, of every ailment. All of them. All instantaneously. It would be a “big ask,” but God wants us to be bold.
The Cured (and Their Friends and Relations and All Observers) Praise God
Beginning at the time of their cure, those men, women and children cured would talk nonstop about it. The man with leprosy “started talking about it freely and telling the story everywhere, so that Jesus could no longer go openly into any town, but had to stay outside in places where nobody lived.” (Mark 1:45) Anyone who observed these miracles would talk about it incessantly:
• “Astonishment seized them all and they glorified God, and, struck with awe, they said, ‘We have seen incredible things today.’” (Luke 5:26)
• “Everyone was awestruck by the greatness of God.” (Luke 9:43)
• “All the people were overjoyed at all the wonders He worked.” (Luke 13:17)
For an entire lifetime, each person cured remembered not only their cure but also the friends who had brought him or her to Jesus. Each remembered where and when they were cured. Each remembered Who cured them. They were walking and talking witnesses to Him, often before they described anything. Each had a story to tell. This brings to mind the last words of John’s Gospel:
There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25)
Many of the people who were cured “followed Him”:
• the two formerly blind men from Jericho “followed Him.” (Matt. 20:34)
• “Certain women who had been cured of evil spirits and ailments” followed Him: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna and “several others.” (Luke 8:2-3)
Those cured, and their families and friends, undoubtedly would have formed the Church in Galilee and Judea, praying, worshiping, loving one another, doing charity, exchanging stories of Jesus that became the Gospels.
Jesus’ Tenderness During a Cure
There are many “tender moments” in the reports of Jesus’ miracles that we should not glance over. They are worthy of our fresh look:
• With great love for His dear mother, He agreed to start His public ministry, the public revelation of Who He is by changing water into wine at a wedding in Cana. (John 2:1-11) This report appears only in the Gospel of John, the young man to whom Jesus, from the cross, gave the care of His mother (John 19:26-27)
• Jesus cured a woman who had been bent over for 18 years. Her cure came about on Jesus’ initiative. He saw her in the congregation when He was teaching in a synagogue. He called her over and declared, “Woman, you are rid of your infirmity!” and He laid His hands on her. (Luke 13:12-13)
• When Jesus cured a young man of epilepsy, Jesus “gave him back to his father.” (Luke 9:42). Mark added another detail. After the cure, observers said the boy “is dead” because the boy lay like a corpse. “Jesus took him by the hand, and helped him up, and he was able to stand.” (Mark 9:27)
• The woman with internal bleeding who touched His cloak amidst a crowd told Him her “whole truth.” He responded, “Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” Mark 5:33-34
• When a leper, contrary to all law and custom, approached Jesus, he said, “Sir, if you want to, you can cure me.” Jesus responded by doing the unthinkable. He touched him! Then He said (and consider what must have been His tone), “Of course I want to. Be cured!” (Matt 8:2-3; Luke 5:12-13)
• After Jesus raised the son of the widow of Naim, “He gave him to his mother.” (Luke 7:15)
• Although Jesus took the Twelve with Him and “withdrew to a town called Bethsaida where they could be by themselves,” “the crowds got to know and they went after Him.” Jesus “made them welcome and talked to them of the kingdom of God, and He healed those who were in need of healing.” Luke 9:11. Notice “He made them welcome” just as He had “the little children.”
• When Jesus raised Jairus’ 12 year old daughter, He asked those present to give her something to eat. (Mark 5:43; Luke 8:56; see Matt. 9:18-19, 23-25)
• Jesus called His disciples to Him and said, “I feel sorry for all these people; they have been with Me for three days now and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them off hungry; they may collapse on the way.” (Matt. 16:32)
• After Jesus cured the paralyzed man who had been lowered through the roof by his four friends, He recognized their faith and their friendship and forgave their sins. (Luke 5:20)
Jesus Cured People from a Distance
Let’s consider as part of our fresh look at miracles that Jesus was not always in the immediate presence of the people He cured. For example, He healed the centurion’s servant without going to the centurion’s home. (Matt. 8:5-13, Luke 7:1-10) He cured the daughter of the Canaanite woman without seeing the daughter. (Matt. 15:21-28) He cured a court official’s son without going to their home. (Luke 4:46-53)
He also commissioned people to work miracles. He sent 72 disciples, in pairs, ahead of places He would be going, instructing them to “Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” “The seventy-two returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your Name.’” (Luke 10:9, 17) He sent also sent the Apostles, “the Twelve,” with the same instructions. (Mark 6:13; Luke 9:1-2)
He empowered His Apostles to forgive sin (John 20:23) and, at the Last Supper, He told them to “do this,” that is, consecrate bread and wine (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:24).
This last miracle is really crazy, isn’t it? It is crazy in 2018 and it was crazy in the First Century. When He announced He would do this, in Chapter 6 of the Gospel of John, many of His followers walked away: “Many of His disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied Him.” (John 6:66). There’s more in John’s account:
Since Jesus knew that His disciples were murmuring about this, He said to them, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? (John 6:61-62)
Jesus might well have asked, “Is this act of Me becoming bread for you to eat, any more shocking than the Son of Man descending from Heaven to become this creature before you, to My willingness to accept torture and crucifixion for love of you?”
The Greatest Miracle of All
This leads to what I believe was the greatest miracle of all. Which of the thirty-plus pre-Resurrection miracles do you think it was? Was it one of the miracles with which we began: restoring a withered hand? restoring a severed ear? restoring the limbs of the people with leprosy? Was it curing 10 men simultaneously and instantaneously of leprosy?
Or was it feeding 5,000? This was not an instantaneous miracle as if He had produced 2,000 loaves of bread at one time in one place. Rather, this miracle kept going for an extended period of time. (Matt. 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-15). Is it the Real Presence in bread and wine, also given for an extended period of time?
Or was it something “as simple as” giving sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf?
Or was it raising Lazarus from the dead, after he’d been dead a few days and was entombed? (John 11) Was it walking on water? (Matt. 14:22-33; Mark 6:45-52; Luke 6:12-21) Or calming a storm? (Matt. 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25)
Here is my opinion. I think the greatest miracle was God, the creator of Time, the creator of the entire universe, with all of its galaxies and their vast distances, with all of its subatomic particles and with its minute distances, the colors, the human brain, dark matter, cosmic rays, all living things, and so much more, Who became man. In Christian terminology, He is (is, not was) the Incarnate Son of God.
In 2000, then Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI), head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a short document, with the approval of Pope John Paul II, entitled Dominum Jesus (“On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church”). It included this language:
Jesus Christ has a significance and a value for the human race and its history, which are unique and singular, proper to him alone, exclusive, universal, and absolute. (Para. 15)
[T]he words, deeds, and entire historical event of Jesus, though limited as human realities, have nevertheless the divine Person of the Incarnate Word, “true God and true man” as their subject. For this reason, they possess in themselves the definitiveness and completeness of the revelation of God's salvific ways, even if the depth of the divine mystery in itself remains transcendent and inexhaustible. The truth about God is not abolished or reduced because it is spoken in human language; rather, it is unique, full, and complete, because he who speaks and acts is the Incarnate Son of God. (Para. 6)
In JESUS OF NAZARETH: THE INFANCY NARRATIVES, pp. 4-13 (2012), Pope Benedict examined the genealogies given in the Gospels for Jesus. They demonstrate that Jesus became part of the human family. He was born into a specific time and place. He is not a figment of our imagination. He is not a figure from a “tall tale.” He did not appear out of the mist.
Let me add that Jesus assumed the form of a human zygote, a blastocyst, an embryo, and then a newborn baby. The Archangel Gabriel had proclaimed to The Virgin, that this could be done without her having relations with a man. Gabriel proclaimed, “Nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37) Yes, God can take the form of a creature. (And, yes, He can take the form of bread and wine.) He became a male individual of the species Homo sapiens, of the Class Mammalia, of the Order Primates, of the Phylum Chordata, of the Kingdom Animalia.
This Christmas, let us not be used to Jesus’ miracles. Let us think about all His miracles. Let us think about the families and friends of the men, women, and children He cured. Let us think of the tenderness with which He dealt with people. Let us think especially about the miracle of His conception and birth. Let us be amazed like the witnesses of the First Century. Let chills run up and down our spines.
Let us imagine what human life would be like if Christ had not come. That should prompt a different kind of chill.
Spero News columnist James Thunder is an attorney who practices in the Washington D.C. area.