Sunday June 5, 2016
A Reflection on Luke 7:11-17, N.A.B.
By: Larry T
Airline pilot Chesley Sullenberger III was immediately hailed as a national hero when he successfully performed the emergency water landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River off Manhattan in New York City, after the aircraft was disabled by striking a flock of Canadian geese during its initial climb out of LaGuardia Airport on January 15, 2009. All one-hundred fifty-five passengers and crew aboard the aircraft survived. Many people were quick to declare it a miracle. Was it?
We wouldn’t for a moment say that God was not involved in that whole process. But the reason the plane landed safely was that Chesley Sullenberger III had been flying planes and gliders, and teaching others to do so, for thirty years. His instincts were so well honed that all the lightning quick complex thoughts and actions necessary for a safe landing were second nature to him. The danger in using the word miracle to describe events such as this is in insisting that it was either/or. Either God did it or the pilot did it. What then, is a miracle?
In the Dictionary of the Bible, John L. McKenzie, S.J. writes:
“Modern theology defines miracle as a phenomenon in nature which transcends the capacity of natural causes to such a degree that it must be attributed to the direct intervention of God.”
How many miracles (acts of power) did Jesus perform? There are thirty-seven recorded miracles in the Gospels; twenty-eight involved healing of the sick, casting out demons, and resuscitation of the dead; nine miracles had to do with the natural world.
Why did Jesus perform these works of power? The people of Jesus’ time believed that all physical and mental disorders were caused by sin (evil). In their view, contrary to our modern perspective, whenever Jesus healed the sick, performed exorcisms, and restored life to the dead he was showing his supremacy over evil. At times the Lord insisted that their faith was essential for Him to exercise His healing powers.
Nonetheless Jesus was skeptical about the effects of his acts of power on the people, as is evidenced in Luke 16:31: Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’ And whenever the devil, Herod, the Pharisees, or the people asked Jesus to perform a miracle he refused. Even though His acts of power caused the people to pause, admire, and wonder, they weren’t the primary means by which Jesus announced the arrival of the Kingdom of God through Him – they were just one of the means. In this Gospel story we see Jesus once again exhibiting his supremacy over satanic power which, in the minds of the people of his time, showed itself through illness and death.
11 Soon afterward he journeyed to a city called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd accompanied him.
12 As he drew near to the gate of the city, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. A large crowd from the city was with her.
13 When the Lord saw her, he was moved with pity for her and said to her, “Do not weep.”
14 He stepped forward and touched the coffin; at this the bearers halted, and he said, “Young man, I tell you, arise!”
15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.
16 Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, exclaiming, “A great prophet has arisen in our midst,” and “God has visited his people.”
17 This report about him spread through the whole of Judea and in all the surrounding region.
What are we to make of the miracle at Nain? What are we to make of the emergency water landing of US Airways Flight 1549? How many witnesses to Jesus’ resuscitation of the dead man in the city of Nain were instantly converted? How many of those who believed that Jesus somehow took over the controls of US Airways Flight 1549 and guided it to a safe landing dropped to their knees in thanksgiving and praise of the Lord? Undoubtedly some of the crew and passengers did, but what about those of us who watched replay after replay of the event on the six o’clock news? Did we simply pause, wonder and go about our normal business?
What if we make the effort to view Jesus’ works of power through first century A.D. eyes and try to understand that he was using miracles to display his power over evil? We might ask ourselves where His supremacy over evil was when He was tortured and crucified. In those events the raging forces of evil were given complete freedom to run amok, to create total pandemonium. Rome, represented by Pontius Pilate, and Herod were in the mix, as was Caiaphas and his corrupt Jerusalem regime, so were the close-minded Pharisees and Sadducees, as were those Israelites who declared that they had no king but Caesar. Shrieking demons danced in the streets and mocking crowds roared their approval of the proceedings. Judas’s betrayal and Peter’s denials were but final blows in the reign of evil and terror. It was as if all of these forces were poured into a cauldron, brought to a boil and poured on Jesus’ innocent head as he was being nailed to the cross. And Jesus took it all; unchecked evil took its best shot at him, and he was victoriously resurrected in three days. On that day evil was sent packing like a cur dog with its tail between its legs.
Then why is there so much evil in our world today? We are all infected with the virus of evil. We cannot be so naïve as to believe that we are not infected, because in certain circumstances; we are all capable of committing evil acts.
In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-10) Jesus preached:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
6 Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
These principles tamp down the virus of evil that resides within all of us. And Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and even atheists, whether they acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God or not, who in some form or another adhere to these principles, would find it difficult if not impossible to commit the kind of notorious evil acts that dominate today’s news. Those acts of pure evil, which the news media loves to assail our senses with, are committed by a relatively small percentage of the world’s population. The people who do commit those acts, like the shrieking demons that danced in the streets at Jesus’ crucifixion, dance with joy at the fame bestowed on them by the obliging news media. Thankfully, the majority of the world’s population prefers to live in peace.