Friday Focus: The Only Miracle That Counts
As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother's only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town.
When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, "Do not weep."
Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, "Young man, I say to you, rise!"
The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.
Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has risen among us!" and "God has looked favorably on his people!"
This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country. - Luke 7:11-17
This week we are back into the bread and butter basics of the gospel. We have celebrated the Resurrection and its aftermath. The Ascension, Pentecost and Trinity Sunday are receding in our rearview mirror. With this week’s gospel, we return to the familiar round of Christ’s sermons, parables and miracles. And therein lies both danger and opportunity.
The opportunity is obvious. By annually cycling through different perspectives on Christ’s ministry, we keep fresh the constant refrains of Christianity: God loves us. Christ’s life, death and resurrection are the ultimate expression of that love. In Christ we are saved and we are called to do God’s work in the world. In preliterate times these concepts were illustrated in statuary and stained glass, manuscript illuminations and feast day dramatics.
Our own post-literate times pose a completely different set of dynamics. Even when delivered by a stem-winding preacher, the Sunday sermon from the pulpit is launched into a totally transformed world. The congregants are fewer. The competition for their attention is far greater. Especially with the young, a verbal account of Christ’s miracles must compete for top-of-the-mind attention with the seemingly miraculous, computer-animated adventures of the Transformers, Iron Man and the Power Rangers. And it’s not just the whiz-bang graphics that pre-empt reality; it’s the sex, violence and trashy values that come along for the ride. Doubtless, with the pace of technology, we ain’t seen nothing yet.
But while some things change at a blinding pace, other things remain constant. The world, the flesh and the devil are still our ravenous adversaries. Rebellious pride packaged in trendy, politically correct form is as corrosive as ever. But Christians have met this all before, in century after century. In the blood of martyrs, in the inspiration of evangelists, in the unsung service of countless parish families and in the stolid resolve of individual Christians, the love of Christ has triumphed …and will triumph again. And that’s a miracle. Two thousand years after Christ breathed life back into a corpse, the Body of Christ, while constantly under siege, is alive and well and flourishing in unexpected and exciting ways. Old media, old models fail us. But they do not define the church of Christ. The single most effective medium to spread the gospel is the individual Christian, living and witnessing the love of Christ.
As long as we live in his love, Christ is here to breathe new life into us. . . which brings us back to this week’s reading. Look around you, the young man that Jesus raised from the dead is not here. He’s been in the grave for almost two thousand years. The same is true for the lame, the lepers, the blind and the deaf… all those that Jesus healed. Restoring earthly life or improving physical health was never Christ’s mission. He’s not the Mayo Clinic, a magician or a Marvel Comic hero. He is the way, the truth and the life. And we that believe in him will never know death. That’s the only miracle that counts.