is steeped in stories of divine power and magic, but it is really about faith,
faith which means trust.
is a call to all people who suffer, it is an encouragement to hope, for to
believe in the coming of a better day.
is easy to read this narrative and make the story about Jesus, about his power.
This is not the right way to read it.
is unlikely that such miracles ever even occurred. We live in a world where
disease and illness afflict us, where death occurs, all of it in accordance
with the laws of nature, laws which God established for the good of all
does not abrogate God’s own law.
the gospel intends, is to encourage us to have faith, faith in the notion that
everything we suffer is a part of God’s divine plan, and that plan includes our
salvation, which means an end to all suffering, for all time.
gospel writers used the stories of miracles, and healing to convey their faith.
narrative has two layers.
is important that we push through the surface, go past the stories of divine
power and miracle making, and get to the story of faith, the trust that washes
us clan and makes us well, even in the midst of our pain.
Girl, I Tell You to Get Up
Jesus had crossed in the boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered round
him and he stayed by the lakeside. Then one of the synagogue officials came up,
Jairus by name, and seeing him, fell at his feet and pleaded with him
earnestly, saying, ‘My little daughter is desperately sick. Do come and lay
your hands on her to make her better and save her life.’ Jesus went with him
and a large crowd followed him; they were pressing all round him.
there was a woman who had suffered from a haemorrhage for twelve years; after
long and painful treatment under various doctors, she spent all she had without
being any the better for it, in fact, she was getting worse. She had heard
about Jesus, and she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his cloak.
‘If I can touch even his clothes,’ she had told herself ‘I shall be well
again.’ And the source of the bleeding dried up instantly, and she felt in
herself that she was cured of her complaint. Immediately aware that power had
gone out from him, Jesus turned round in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my
clothes?’ His disciples said to him, ‘You see how the crowd is pressing round
you and yet you say, “Who touched me?”’ But he continued to look all round to
see who had done it. Then the woman came forward, frightened and trembling
because she knew what had happened to her, and she fell at his feet and told
him the whole truth. ‘My daughter,’ he said ‘your faith has restored you to
health; go in peace and be free from your complaint.’
he was still speaking some people arrived from the house of the synagogue
official to say, ‘Your daughter is dead: why put the Master to any further
trouble?’ But Jesus had overheard this remark of theirs and he said to the
official, ‘Do not be afraid; only have faith.’ And he allowed no one to go with
him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. So they came to the
official’s house and Jesus noticed all the commotion, with people weeping and
wailing unrestrainedly. He went in and said to them, ‘Why all this commotion
and crying? The child is not dead, but asleep.’ But they laughed at him. So he
turned them all out and, taking with him the child’s father and mother and his
own companions, he went into the place where the child lay. And taking the
child by the hand he said to her, ‘Talitha, kum!’ which means, ‘Little girl, I
tell you to get up.’ The little girl got up at once and began to walk about,
for she was twelve years old. At this they were overcome with astonishment, and
he ordered them strictly not to let anyone know about it, and told them to give
her something to eat.
Jesus went to a town called Nain,
accompanied by his disciples and a great number of people. When he was near the
gate of the town it happened that a dead man was being carried out for burial,
the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a considerable number of
the townspeople were with her. When the Lord saw her he felt sorry for her. ‘Do
not cry’ he said. Then he went up and put his hand on the bier and the bearers
stood still, and he said, ‘Young man, I tell you to get up.’ And the dead man
sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Everyone was filled
with awe and praised God saying, ‘A great prophet has appeared among us; God has
visited his people.’ And this opinion of him spread throughout Judaea and all
over the countryside.
What is the message that the
authors of Luke’s Gospel are giving us; that magic and miracle making, that wonder
working and acts of power are equivalent, perhaps greater than works of the
prophets of old.
None of the authors of
Luke’s Gospel ever met Jesus. At least half a century had passed from the time
of Jesus’ death, to the time that Luke’s Gospel was written. By the time this
Gospel was written; Palestine (Judea and Samaria) were completely under Roman
rule, Jerusalem had been ruined, the temple destroyed, and the population scattered
across the Empire in the second great Diaspora.
There were no witnesses
to the events Luke describes; the raising of the widow’s son. No one to give
the story of the reaction of the crowd. The story itself is a fabrication, it
is a myth, it never happened, but it became a part of the tradition and was
handed down as evidence that Jesus had both great compassion and great power.
There is little insight to
be gained from this reading regarding the teachings of Jesus. Let me suggest this,
the raising of the dead man at Nain, was not a physical miracle, it was the
assertion of the notion that widow should not be left alone, with no husband,
and no son to protect her. The resurrection of the widow’s son is a metaphor
not a miracle, it means that in place of the woman’s son, the Church will not
step up. The church will pick up the familial obligations for the woman, to
protect her and keep her in life.
This is the role of the
church, as a guardian of the meek, as a caretaker. This is a miracle, because
it is in contradistinction to the common way of life, which would have forced
the widow out into the margins of society.
God does not violate the
laws of nature; not once, not ever. If we are going to accept this story as a
part of the Gospel we must find a way of reading it that rules out the
supernatural. Because there is no such thing as magic.
Now listen, this reading
does just that. It is not that the widow’s son died, and returned to life. It
is that Jesus appointed the church to care for the widow, in place of her dead
son; this keeps her in life, and this is what puts Jesus directly in the
tradition of the prophets, not the miracle making, the wonder working, the acts
of power, and the magic, because these are fantasies. It is his work as an
advocate for Justice, for community, and compassion that make him into powerful
prophet that he was.
There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee.
The mother of Jesus was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been
invited. When they ran out of wine, since the wine provided for the wedding was
all finished, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ Jesus said
‘Woman, why turn to me? My hour has not come yet.’ His mother said to the
servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ There were six stone water jars standing
there, meant for the ablutions that are customary among the Jews: each could
hold twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with
water’, and they filled them to the brim. ‘Draw some out now’ he told them ‘and
take it to the steward.’ They did this; the steward tasted the water, and it
had turned into wine. Having no idea where it came from – only the servants who
had drawn the water knew – the steward called the bridegroom and said; ‘People
generally serve the best wine first, and keep the cheaper sort till the guests
have had plenty to drink; but you have kept the best wine till now.’
This was the first of the signs given by Jesus: it was given at Cana in
Galilee. He let his glory be seen, and his disciples believed in him. (NJB)
Jesus, the Second Son
Where is the truth in this myth?
Jesus was not magic.
God is not a miracle worker.
Read literally; this story is a lie. Jesus
never turned water into wine. It is likely that the entire event never
There was no wedding at Cana.
Mary did not call on Jesus to work
wonders. People did not follow Jesus because they saw him to wonderful tricks.
So what is happening here? It is a
narrative regarding the reversal of expectations.
It may be a story about Jesus and John the
Baptist. It may be an apology of sorts; a defense of Jesus given to the
followers of John.
John came first, but John was the lesser
of the two. The people might have expected the best to come first, like the wine
at the wedding, but like the stories of the Patriarchs, the second son was
This is the best understanding. The Wedding
of Cana is not a miracle story, it is a parable. It intends to convey this
simple truth; Jesus does not carry the mantle of John, he carries the promise
of the covenant.