Monday, July 20, 2009

I'm not even kidding...

I was cleaning up my apartment some this week in anticipation of a quickly-approaching move out, and I found myself going through some old books, long boxed-up. In one such box I discovered what was, if memory serves me, one of the first non-fiction books on Christianity that I ever purchased (almost a decade ago! Wow...): The Gospel According to the Simpsons, by Mark I. Pinsky.
I sat a moment remembering days long-gone and started to place the book aside in a pile (the pile that my books are hoping not to end up in, actually), when on a whim I decided to check out the blurbs on the back.

My eye was first drawn to the name "Will Willimon", which unexpectedly sat at the end of one such blurb. "What a fun book--with serious purpose... I didn't know that Bart Simpson had so much to teach us. Far out!" 

Oh my.

Curious, my eyes proceeded to scan further, only to discover the crown jewel:
"The Simpsons is one of the most subtle pieces of propaganda around in the cause of sense, humility, and virtue. Mark Pinsky manages to decipher the code without deadening the humor, which is quite an achievement." 
- The Most Revered Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury

I then decided to keep the book.

I'm not even kidding.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

are miracles good news?

Last week I had the opportunity to worship at a black United Methodist Church on Sunday morning. This was quite the switch for me, but I'm so glad to have been there. The Peace took about ten minutes, as everyone in the congregation--25-30 people--greeted everyone else individually. Quite the switch.

One of the most remarkable moments of the morning came with the gospel reading. A lovely young lady in a wheelchair read the text, from Mark 5, where Jesus heals the woman "who had a discharge of blood" and Jairus's daughter. Seeing her before the congregation and hearing those accounts, you could not help but think about miracles. Where have they gone? How is this good news to the girl in front of me? What are the miracles of Christ and the apostles but some carrot dangling before us, a tease of some 'better world' to come?

Thinking about these things, my mind turned to another miracle story in the gospels.
In John 9 Jesus heals a man who was born blind. The disciples look to base a good theological discussion on the man: "who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Christ won't have this: No... "it was that the works of God might be displayed in him." The man was blind so that the works of God might be shown in his healing.
But the question remains: why is it 'good news', that the works of God are manifested through Jesus and this man?

I think we misunderstand miracles.

The good news of a miracle is not in the healing. That "I was blind, now I see" is not the good news. It seems like the good news. After all, we pray for healing that someone might be healed. The good news of a miracle is that Jesus of Nazareth can display the works of God.
The miracle stories are not teaching us to expect God to heal. He can, and sometimes He does. I heard a story just this week of God's healing a woman in Indonesia, where Christians are entering some dark areas for the very first and where some were asked to pray over a persisting ailment. But this is not the heart of the story in John 9--or in Mark 5.

At the heart of the story is the question Who is Jesus?

After Christ heals the man in John 9 there is a fuss. How did He do this? Why doesn't He keep the Sabbath? Who is this man? The (formerly) blind man says it best at the end of the chapter: "If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." (:33)

The good news of Jesus' miracles is that 'this man is from God.'

This is just what Christ said to John's followers when they came to Him while the Baptist was in prison. 'Are you the one who is to come?' (Matthew 11, Luke 7) Jesus doesn't offer an answer in words--the answer is given in His works, His ministry. "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to the." (Matt. 11:4-5) If John would know who Jesus is, he needs only to observe what Jesus is doing.

We could ask again: why is it good news that Jesus is from God? The answer to this is the heart of the gospel. "Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the scriptures. He was buried, that we was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures." This, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, is the gospel. Not just that Jesus died and Jesus lives, but that Christ, the anointed one of Israel, the king, died and lives.
The miracles of Jesus tell us that this man is from God--that His ministry, His teachings are from God. The Resurrection--among other things!--offers one final, grand 'in Whom I am well pleased' to the life of Jesus. This Jesus who claimed to be the Christ, who proclaimed the Kingdom of God, who offers life to His listeners, this Jesus is from God. This message is from God.

The good news of Jesus' miracles is that the Kingdom of God is at hand, established by the work of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit--and all of this 'in accordance with the scriptures', in accordance with God's plans and promises from Abraham to Moses, from David to the prophets.

Jesus is not going to heal every paraplegic. But He has and will continue to, through every miracle and through every new life that He gives, proclaim and manifest the Kingdom of God.

Yes, miracles are good news. By his miracles we know that Jesus Christ is from God, that he is the one 'to come'; He is the one who died, was buried, and has raised, who is now offering that life, that victory over sin and death, to all the world. This is very good news.