Which Comes First, The Miracle Or The Faith
Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)
My dear encountered couples:
You have heard the question, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Today we have the question, “Which comes first, the miracle or the faith?”
Jesus went to his hometown of Nazareth where he preached to the people as no one else had ever preached before. Even though it is not contained in today’s Scripture reading taken from the Gospel of Mark, we can find in Luke’s gospel (4:16-30) Jesus preaching not about the future coming of the promised Messiah as they had heard their scribes and rabies preach; he told them he was that promised Messiah. Which they could not, or would not, accept.
“Is he not the carpenter, the Son of Mary?” they asked. In other words, they were saying, “He’s only a carpenter. Who does he think he is pretending to be the Messiah!” They not only refused to believe in Jesus, but Luke tells us in his gospel that they even took Jesus to the brow of a hill outside town and tried to throw him over. Jesus, of course, slipped away in all the confusion and managed to stay alive for another day so he could go and work miracles in other towns where he was more appreciated.
This visit can leave us a bit confused. We are told that “Jesus was not able to perform any mighty deeds there,” because of their lack of faith, but that he did “cure a few of the sick people.” Does that mean there was at least a speck of faith there which made it possible for him to perform those sick cures? Or did he perform the cures in hopes of giving birth to some faith in the people who witnessed them? This visit of Jesus to his hometown doesn’t clear up our chicken and egg question. We are still left with, “Which comes first, the miracle or the faith?”
We want all sorts of good things in our lives. We want miracles. But if we live with the attitude that they are never going to happen to us, chances are, they won’t. Like the person who buys a lottery ticket but has no hope of ever winning, when we don’t have faith in ourselves or in God, chances are the miracles we want will never happen. Imagine yourself buying a lottery ticket, you have the winning numbers, but you don’t know it. You see the numbers on television, somebody remarks, “Say, those numbers seem awfully close to yours. Get your ticket and let’s take a look.” But you respond. “Are you kidding? I could never win anything.” And you don’t even bother to go look at your ticket. In fact, later, when you’re cleaning out your wallet or going through the pile of junk on your dresser, you throw out the ticket.
Oooh myyy God! What did you do? You were the winner of millions of dollars, but because you had no faith in ever winning, you will never see a penny of it. Now there’s a real loser for you. You would be just like the people of Nazareth. They had the Messiah they had prayed for all their lives standing right in front of their eyes. But they would not believe it. Can’t you picture them somewhere off in eternity still kicking themselves?
Everybody has trouble with faith. You and I are not the only ones lacking in it. Either it is faith in God or faith in ourselves that we come up short in. Or is it both? St. Paul seems to have had more trouble with faith in himself than with his faith in God.
“A thorn in my flesh was given me,” writes Paul, “an angel of Satan to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I am content with weaknesses for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Though Paul had many great attributes, though he was gifted in many ways, he had problems with himself as we all do. What those problems were - we do not know. Maybe a weakness toward a particular sin, maybe a lack of talent for doing what God wanted him to do. Whatever Paul’s problem, he had little faith in himself being able to handle it alone. So, he turned to Christ and trusted. Believing that God could do anything through anybody, whether extremely talented or lacking in all talent, the Holy Spirit was able to carry out God’s work through Paul. It can happen to you too.
We would all like to be perfect. Perfect in knowledge, wisdom, body and soul. But let’s face it! Though we might be very gifted in some things, there are those others we are lacking in. Like Paul we all have our deficiencies and imperfections. That’s when God knocks for us to let him in to do in us whatever he wants. But for that to happen, we have to be willing to say with Paul, “I am content with weaknesses, for when I am weak, then I am strong.” And he surely was. Has there ever been a man more successful? Jesus performed many miracles for Paul and through Paul because Paul’s faith was strong. But let us not forget. It was a miracle by Christ that started Paul believing in the first place.
Paul was headed for Damascus to arrest Christians. A flash of light, a stroke of blindness, a voice, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me.” (Acts ch.9) Jesus overwhelmed Paul with a miracle to instill faith in him; Paul’s faith then opened the door to many other miracles.
It is natural and normal to be lacking in self-confidence. It is natural and normal to have doubts about miracles happening in our lives. We pray for miracles, but we doubt they will happen. Maybe we need to open our eyes and see what God has already done in our lives. Everything may not have gone as we might wish - it didn’t for Paul either - but aren’t there some things we can find in our past that might suggest a miracle or two from God?
“Is he not the carpenter?” commented the people of Nazareth. “Isn’t Mary his mother? Don’t we know his entire clan?” “So, Jesus was not able to perform any mighty deeds there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.”
What is required first? That God astounds us with fantastic miracles before we place our trust in him? Or that we have faith in him so that miracles can happen? It’s the chicken and egg thing all over again, but on a much more personal level. But wait a minute! We exist, don’t we? What more of a miracle do we need from God than that? Now let us keep faith in him so that the miracle of our existing is worth its happening.