In today’s gospel, Matthew tells us of two of the miracles that Jesus performed. The first: “A woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself, ‘If only I touch his cloak, I will be made well.’ Jesus turned, and seeing her said, ‘Take heart daughter; your faith has made you well.’ And instantly the woman was made well.” And, the second: “A leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him,” saying, “my daughter has just died; but, come and lay your hand on her and she will live.” Jesus goes to the leader’s house and tells the mourners to go away. “He went into the house and took the girl’s hand, and she got up.”
The gospels are filled with Jesus’ miracle stories. He cures fevers and leprosy. He straightens a withered hand and a bent back. With his touch, blindness and deafness disappear. He performs exorcisms, and he raises people from the dead. These accounts of the miracles that Jesus performed were originally recounted as oral histories. Stories told and re-told many times in the 30-40 years after Jesus’ death. They are stories told by many different people, in several different languages, and in a variety of countries throughout the Roman Empire. The first written account of the miracle stories appears in Mark’s gospel in approximately 65 AD – almost 40 years after the death of Christ. The gospels of Matthew and Luke and the Book of Acts, each filled with their own versions of Jesus’ ministry, followed sometime between 80 and 85 AD. The gospel of John was not written until about 90 AD. Each of the gospels tells the miracle stories in slightly different ways, just as they tell of Jesus’ years of public ministry in different ways. Indeed, it would be quite strange if the gospels were alike given the many years and the many versions of Jesus’ ministry that were told, both orally and in written form, between Jesus’ death and the actual writing of the gospels.
It is important to understand that the gospels do not pretend historical accuracy. At the time that they were written, historical accuracy was not considered important. Rather, the gospels reflect the faith of the early church in a Jesus who had power to heal, to feed, and to comfort. For instance, in Luke’s account of Jesus, Jesus begins his public ministry by reciting the words of Isaiah 4, verses 18-19, “The Spirit of the Lord has chosen me to bring good news to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives, give sight to the blind, and set the oppressed free.” In this statement, as in many others that Jesus made, we see that historical accuracy is of little relevance. It is rather the message of God’s preferential option for the poor and the oppressed that emerges as the central and universal theme. The whole of Jesus’ ministry, as described in each of the gospels, challenges people to a new vision of a liberating, loving God who sides with the poor, the hungry, the sick and the suffering. Jesus’ healings are simply the metaphors, or signs, of the reality of such a God.
A SUBSCRIBER SAYS: “I’ve been preaching for 27 years and just decided to try and preach the lectionary for the first time. When I read the Gospel lesson, nothing stirred. But when I read what you’d provided, I started having a conversation with the text, your exegesis, and some of the points you lift up in your sermon. I will preach a sermon that is different, because something different moved me, but it was the engagement with your mind about the text that sparked ideas for me.”
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Dr. Gerald Hall says this so well in his lecture “Jesus’ Parables and Miracles in the Gospels.” Dr. Hall states that, “…there is nothing to suggest that he (Jesus) performs miracles to bring attention to himself…When events are proclaimed miraculous they are, from Jesus’ own perspective, nothing more and nothing less than indications that God’s healing, saving, and redeeming power is not merely a reality of past and future, but something available to people in the here and now.” Dr. Hall goes on to say: “Miracles are central to Jesus’ ministry on behalf of the kingdom. Their purpose is not to divinise Jesus, but to reveal the power of God at work in unexpected ways. They call people to a conversion of heart, vision and action so that they too become signs of God’s dynamic reign of a fully inclusive, healing, liberating community…(the miracle stories) subvert our ordinary way of seeing the world and invite us to be vulnerable so that the miracle of God’s reign will be experienced even now among us.”
This message, the message that tells us that God’s reign will be experienced even now among us, is central to our understanding of our role as Christians; and, it is central to the way in which we understand our role in addressing the Millennium Development Goals. In our Baptismal Covenant we promise, “To proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves, and to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” We make each of these promises individually and with the reply, “I will with God’s help.”
In his essay, “Ministry and Orders: A Tangled Skein,” Wesley Frensdorff, former Bishop of Nevada, opens by saying: “Ministry, as the sharing of God’s gifts, is the personal privilege and imperative of every member of the church by virtue of baptism…The church is a ministering community, a community of ministers: interrelated, interdependent, proclaiming and sharing the love of God, in Christ Jesus.” He goes on to quote Corinthians chapter 12, verses 12-13,
“For Christ is like a single body with its many limbs and organs which, many as they are, together make up one body. For indeed we were all brought into one body by baptism, in the one Spirit whether we are Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free men, and that one Holy Spirit was poured out for us all to drink.”
Today we are going to focus on Millennium Development Goal Number One: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. Some facts:
• More than one billion people (one in every six) live on less than $1 a day, with nearly half the world’s population (2.8 billion) living on less than $2 a day.
• Every year more than 10 million children die of hunger and preventable diseases. That is, one in every seven children die of hunger and preventable diseases.
• 800 million people go to bed hungry every day.
• One third of deaths – some 18 million people a year, or 50,000 per day – are due to poverty-related causes.
These figures are the published data, polished and presented in a way to catch our attention…to take our breath away. What about the unpublished data? What about the people here in Pahrump who have no food, no funds to cover the costs of Valley Electric or to buy propane, even on the coldest day of winter, with 45 mile an hour winds whipping through their fragile home? What about the men, women and children who have no health insurance and who cannot get medications for even simple illnesses, who cannot access treatment for cancer, who cannot even get broken bones set? What about the men, women, and children who live in their cars or in the desert? Are these people even on our radar screen? Or, is it easier to turn the other way, and to assume that someone else will take care of them? How do we as Christians “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ” to those who are living on less than $1 a day. How do we as Christians “seek and serve Christ in all persons” who die of hunger and preventable diseases? How do we as Christians “strive for justice and peace” among the 800 million who go to bed hungry every day” Finally, how do we “respect the dignity” of the 18 million people who die in loneliness, despair and poverty every year?
These are challenging questions. Questions that will hopefully lead us at St. Martin’s into considering ways that we as Christ’s ministers can, through prayer, education, social outreach, community organizing and public advocacy join the movement to end global poverty and hunger.
The miracle stories tell us of Jesus’ powerful relationship with God and His great compassion. Jesus often healed with words and touch. Through our baptismal covenant, we have our own powerful relationship with God. This relationship promises to proclaim the good news, seek and serve Christ in all people and to strive for justice, peace and dignity among all people. How does your relationship with God enable you to be a compassionate, healing presence for people today? How do the collective strengths and talents of this congregation enable us to become a partner in the ever growing community of partnerships to eradicate world poverty and hunger? How do we fulfill our Baptismal Covenant?
I would like to close with a quote by Mother Teresa of Calcutta – one of the great healers of modern times. “We try to pray through our work by doing it with Jesus, for Jesus, to Jesus. That helps us put our whole heart and soul into doing it. The dying, the crippled, the mentally ill, the unwanted, the unloved – they are Jesus in disguise.”
Copyright 2008, Clelia Pinza Garrity. Used by permission.