Spending some time recently with a friend brought some new, interesting ideas for me to ponder. Some of what I want to share here is not original to me. The basic idea, in fact, he handed to me. Maybe he got the idea from someone, but it was not novel for me. The conversation came out of a conversation about the miracles of Jesus. For a long time, I have been intrigued by miracles.
I know many people swear by miracles. Jesus performed miracles and folks believe that the miracle occurred just as the New Testament recorded it. Other folks take a more liberal view. They do not actually think Jesus fed five thousand people with five loaves and two fish. They are confident the story of turning water into wine is embellished to make a good story. And then, there are many contemporary people who think all talk about miracles is so much hogwash---literally and metaphorically nonsense.
I certainly do not take everything in the New Testament or, even, the entire Christian Bible literally. So that means, it is not necessary to believe every detail of all the miracles. Having studied the language of the New Testament is helpful, but it is also important to remember that Jesus did not speak Greek, the New Testament language. And no one has ever suggested that Jesus wrote anything.
There is not one Greek word for miracle. Our English word comes from the Latin, miraculum, which means “wonder,” or something that elicits wonder. One of my favorite Greek words for miracle is dunamis, which literally means “power.” If you look, you can see that word gives us our word, “dynamite!” Clearly, to work a miracle requires a kind of power, so that characterizes a miracle worker.
Another one of the Greek words for miracles usually gets translated as “sign.” This means that a miracle is a sign. Signs signify. And in many cases, signs become significant. I love how those three words are hooked together: sign, signify and significant. In fact, I would argue if a miracle is not somehow significant, then it is useless as a sign.
This leads me to a little deeper place. Sometimes the real miracle is not what seems to be the miracle itself. Recognizing that may be confusing, let me explain. If we take the New Testament story where Jesus fed the five thousand, clearly the feeding of such a great multitude seems like the miracle itself. At the surface level, this is true. But if we go beneath the surface, we get in touch with the real miracle.
To get to the real miracle, we have to go to the beginning of the story. At the beginning of the story, Jesus is out in the countryside with his disciples. A large crowd has gathered. It is late, so the disciples suggested to Jesus that he send the throng home. That made perfect sense. Instead Jesus said there was no need to send them away. He decided to give the crowd something to eat. Of course, that leads to the miracle that captures folks’ imagination.
At a deeper level, however, the real miracle is more subtle. Rather than sending the crowd home, Jesus decides to minister to them. Now that is a miracle. Most of us are like the disciples. We don’t have enough. We would rather not share. We do not want to be put in a place where we might have to share. So get rid of them! Send the others home. We want to exclude. The miracle of Jesus is not bread and fish, but inclusion.
There is another lesson at this deeper level of miracle. The ministry of inclusion is grounded in love. If we cannot love, then we never will be able to include. Of course, it is not miraculous to love those to whom we are close---family, and friends. We can always include people like us. But the crowd is a different story. After all, who knows what kind of people are in the crowd!
There can certainly be sinners in the crowd. Some or most of them will not be like us. In fact, some of them are aliens. Perhaps there are even enemies in the crowd. Who in their right mind wants to fraternize with a crowd like that? Fraternize is an interesting word here. It comes from the Latin word, frater, which means “brother.” Jesus saw that the crowd was a bunch of brothers (and sisters). They were a spiritual fraternity! Why would they be sent away?
This leads to the final, deep lesson of the real miracle. That lesson concerns the miracle that happens to the disciple, the believer, to me and you. We come to learn that the real miracle is about falling in love---falling in love with the other. This is the real sharing that is demanded. It leads to other miracles, like peace making. All miracles bring hope. Love is the biggest hope of all.