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The Miracles

The word ‘miracle’ is a religious term for a fact of supernatural origin. A miracle can be observed by the senses of humans, yet it is full of mysterious force. It lies outside of the natural order of things and witnesses of powers completely strange to the normal perceptions of humans. In the Gospels, the miracles testify that Jesus stood above the created nature.

The miracles show Jesus’ power over nature. Yet, Jesus never worked against the natural order. He for instance did not turn time back. Jesus’ miracles remained in the line of expectations of the people around him. His deeds were not frightening. They were only subtle changes to the natural progression of an illness, to the normal course of small events. The miracles were such that the people could always easily understand them, yet they showed without doubt a supernatural power at work.

The only way to prove that Jesus was more than a mere human and that he was sent by another power was to show some of that power. Otherwise he may not have been heard, certainly not in the troubled times of his life. So, Jesus had to perform miracles. Miracles were inevitable. Some scholars believe the miracles are only symbolic narratives or myths, referring sometimes to other tales of the Old Testament. Yet then even some among them acknowledge that the stories are religiously true in that they represent fundamental feelings, perceptions of truths of Jesus. The evidence that Jesus was a healer seems compelling though.

All Evangelists talk of the miracles and they give account of them. The miracle of the wedding at Cana was the first according to John. It seems also the easiest, simply turning water into wine. Nothing living is involved; the act could be merely a chemical transformation. But the miracles continued and the power necessary to fulfil them increased. After Cana Jesus cured sick people. He cured virulent skin diseases and he healed the blind and the deaf. He cured a paralytic and a man with a withered hand. He healed a woman with a haemorrhage, a dropsical man and an epileptic. Jesus healed lepers. Jesus multiplied loaves of bread and fish to give crowds to eat. He calmed a storm on a lake and he walked on water.

Between these miracles in start a series of acts, which increasingly show Jesus’ power over life and death, over the living world and over the world after death. Jesus cured a royal official’s son who was at the point of death. He restored to life the son of a widow who had just deceased. He brought to life Jairus’ daughter who had just died. Finally, as a culmination, he arose Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus was not a young man on the point of dying or who had just died, but a mature man who in the force of age had deceased and was already in his grave. One can thus follow a line of growing confidence and force in Jesus’ own power to perform miracles, up to the crescendo of the raising of Lazarus.

Miracles of course became very popular extraordinary stories over the centuries. Although they were of divine power, the miracles were enacted mostly on humans and remained at the human scale. There is no account of large earthquakes and upheavals, of the sun standing still as enacted by Jesus, no spectacular intervention of hordes of spirits. The miracles stayed at the human level. They appealed immediately to the imagination of suffering people and they talked of intimate but dramatic human events. Plays of miracles were performed in Europe in medieval times, especially in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Bands of actors travelled from village to village. They would set up an impressive décor of the earth, heaven and hell on their wagon and impressed the country people with special effects, thunder and fire. The plays gradually became more vulgar and more mysterious and imaginative beyond the Gospel stories so that the Protestant preachers definitely took their distance from them.

Painters also frequently took up themes from the miracles. These were powerful themes in which the artists could compete in representations of the strong emotions that always radiated from miracle deeds. The painters could show the strength and the mystique of Christ in tangible scenes. They dramatised the wonder and surprise of the people around Jesus. There is also an astonishing diversity in scenes that could thus be depicted. Painters were grateful for these scenes that were very popular with commissioners. The Church and the Clergy were all too happy to found faith in deeds that were testimonies to the power of the heavens, and the miracles caught the imagination of people as no other images.

Miracles were not just introduced in the New Testament. The Bible contains a very ancient tradition of miracles. And miracles were also expected of the saints that came after Jesus Christ. The ‘Golden Legend’ is a compilation of the innumerable miracles that were performed by the saints during or after their life. The saints were supposed to be the instruments through which God worked, so the ‘Golden Legend’ is an extraordinary account of these mystical events.

Copyright: René Dewil Back to the navigation screen (if that screen has been closed) Last updated: January 2007
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