Memorial of Saint Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

The crowd said to Jesus:
"What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?

A miracle is defined as, "a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency."

As I have heard the word used, that is an excellent definition; but it's utterly foreign to our Bible-based religion. There are no such "miracles" in the Scriptures because the divine authors knew nothing of "natural or scientific laws." What they saw and describe were wonderful demonstrations -- or "signs" -- of God's love.

In today's gospel the crowd demands a sign of Jesus so that they might "see and believe" but, by that very demand, they close their hearts to him. They set the standards by which he will be measured. If he passes their tests, then they'll believe in him -- or so they say. But they won't believe precisely because they set the standards.

This is why Thomas Jefferson would not worship Jesus. He published his own version of the New Testament and edited out all of the miracles. He didn't believe in miracles; if there is a God he shouldn't do miracles. The Lord should only demonstrate the virtues we should emulate by his teachings and actions. God need not die for our sins or rise from the dead for our salvation. (And it's really below God's dignity to do so.)

Jesus invites us to see the signs, or "the works," that he does. They are not meant to "prove" anything; certainly they do not prove God's power or Jesus' authority. Rather, they reveal God's mercy.

Twenty centuries later some people say they would believe if they saw a miracle. Or they think a miracle would remove all doubt from their minds. But the scriptures show how the Hebrews saw the Red Sea swallow the pharaoh and his army but still they doubted God's mercy. If the pharaoh was a god, as they were told in Egypt; their escape only made them slaves of another god. Why should they believe this all-powerful warrior god was Merciful?

Faith doesn't happen when something is done to me. Faith is my personal decision to see the sign and believe in Jesus. He says to us, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst."

With the choice born of freedom, we take him at his word. We believe in Jesus when we see the very clear sign of the Eucharist. The priests recites, "This is my body... take and eat; this is my blood... take and drink." And we do so.

Recognizing the element of personal decision, the Church recently retranslated the Nicene Creed to read, "I believe in one God." (It was "We believe...") The new translation is more accurate literally and theologically.

Seeing the sign of the Eucharist I no longer set the standard that Jesus must pass; rather I welcome him as Lord, Savior, Champion and Friend who is worthy of my adoration and love. I no longer expect his miracles to make life or faith easy for me; I am willing to take up my appointed cross and walk with him and his Church to Calvary.

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.