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Relationship between faith and miracles

Date Published: July 5, 2015

Gospel Reflection on the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Reading: MK 4:26-34

Our Gospel reading this Sunday narrates Jesus’ experience in Nazareth, which has become his hometown after he, Mary and Joseph returned from Egypt and settled there (cf. Mt 2:23). Specifically, the evangelists focus on how the people of Nazareth rejected him, not because they were unimpressed with his teachings and his deeds, but simply because “they found him too much for them” (v.3) (The original Greek version of this verse reads: “they took offense at him” or “they were scandalized by him”).

Of the three versions that we have of our passage – namely, Mt 13:53-58, Mk 6,1-6, and Lk 4:16-30, it is the third Gospel that provides us with a more detailed account and, hence, helps us understand better the reason why the people of Nazareth were “scandalized” by Jesus. It was his claim that the words of the prophet Isaiah (cf. Is 61:1-2) were fulfilled in him that offended them. In other words, he was claiming himself to be the Messiah the Jews were waiting for. This, indeed, was “too much for them.” They could not accept the possibility that a man, whose family background was too well known to them – he was “the carpenter, the son of Mary, a brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon” (cf. v.3) – could be the Anointed One, the Christ sent by God.

At any rate, the scandal caused by Jesus only served to demonstrate how the people of Nazareth rejected him. They might have remained “amazed” (v.2) initially with his teachings, but the Lord revealed what they really had in their heart: their fundamental lack of faith in him. In fact, the evangelist says that such lack of faith “distressed him” (v.6). Again, the original Greek version uses the term “ethaúmazen,” in this case – “he marveled because of their unbelief.”

For a people well-versed with the Old Testament Messianic prophecies (and not only with those contained in the book of the prophet Isaiah), it would truly cause bewilderment that they were incapable of recognizing Jesus as the Messiah. In other words, to say that Jesus “marveled” at the people of Nazareth’s lack of faith means that he was surprised by their failure to recognize his true identity.

The account continues underscoring the consequence of the people of Nazareth’s unbelief: Christ “could work no miracle there, apart from curing a few who were sick by laying hands on them” (v.5). This is quite a surprising statement. Jesus could not perform any miracle, except curing the sick? Is not the act of curing the sick a miracle in itself? The author of the parallel version in Matthew’s Gospel must have noticed the apparent contradiction involved here and, therefore, decided to come up with an attenuated rendition of it, saying: “and he did not do many miracles there” (Mt 13:58). The Gospel of Luke, on the other hand, totally omits the verse.

Exegetes explain that Saint Mark’s focus was not so much on what Jesus was capable of doing or not, but rather on the people of Nazareth’s reaction to him. We may also add that, by doing so, the evangelist ended up highlighting the relationship that exists between faith and miracles. In other words, miracles presuppose faith; no faith, no miracles.

When we say “no faith, no miracles,” we refer not only to the nature of miracles themselves – that is, their being – in the context of the Gospels – signs of Jesus’ true identity or their serving to reveal his being not only the promised Messiah but also his being God, but also to how miracles presuppose faith in two ways. First, no one can perform the type of miracles Jesus did without having faith in him, and, second, faith gives us the eyes to see miracles even in the ordinary events of life. Hence, faith can really perform wonders, on the one hand, and also enable us to recognize miracles around us, on the other hand.

The lack of faith of Jesus’ contemporaries prevented them from going beyond the signs, which miracles were supposed to be, and consequently were hindered from opening themselves up to his person and his message. This accounts for the Lord’s marveling at their unbelief. The same thing can happen to us today. First, there is the danger of limiting one’s self to the external signs (miracles) without really establishing an intimate relationship with God; second, there is the risk of focusing more on the wonders faith can do instead of concentrating on faith itself; and, third, there is the possibility of becoming spiritually blind to the miracles that surround us and that God continues to perform in our midst.

It is important that believers know which comes first and what to prioritize. Jesus looked for faith in his contemporaries, who instead hankered after miracles. While these can exist around us, they should never be severed from our faith in God. If they fail to help us deepen our faith in Him, then they really do not serve their purpose well. (Fr. Czar Alvarez, OSA)

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