The rumors of what Jesus had done in Jerusalem and in the cities of Judea spread like an avalanche of stones from the mountain. The stories spread by word of mouth were magnified, and interspersed with legends. They became the topic of discussion in the markets and in the caravans. People said a lot about Jesus. They said lightning rays came out of his head, like Moses; that Elijah had lent him his chariot so that he could travel faster from one place to another; that miracles came out of his hand like butterflies…..
Old Woman: Hurry up “comadre!” I was told how the sick get healed just by passing through the shadow of the prophet! Let’s go!
Jesus’ fame grew like fermented bread. The multitude that followed the new prophet of Israel soon doubled.
A Man: Bend your head a little, “paisana”… with that hairdo of yours, we can’t see anything!
A Woman: Here you go again with your needling!
That winter on our way back to Capernaum, the townsfolk waited at the entrance of the barrio, near the gate of Consolation.
Old Woman: Hey, Jesus, how’s everything in the capital? What did you do this time?
Jesus: The usual thing…. we announced the Kingdom of God.
Old Woman: Yeah, yeah, I know. What else did you do?
Jesus: That’s it, grandma. We talked to the people, opened the eyes of the small fish, that the big fish may not gobble them up.
A Man: What the old woman wants to know is, if you made the blind see!
A Woman: Precisely. How many miracles did you perform this time, Jesus?
When the woman spoke of miracles, the multitude pushed around even harder. Many sick people had come, on crutches or carried in improvised stretchers of intertwined branches. Others were with rags tied around the sores on their arms or legs.
A Man: Bah, what really matters now is not what you did in Jerusalem, but what you will do at the moment, is that right? Look at all these unfortunate people. They’re waiting for you to do something for them.
The sick looked at Jesus with pleading eyes, stretching their arms to touch his tunic. Then, Rebecca, the weaver, forced her way through the crowd until she was facing him. Her right leg was thin and twisted; a cane was her only means of support.
Woman: Heal me, please. Make me walk again! Heal me, prophet, heal me!
Jesus looked at the woman, then he remained silent.
Woman: Heal me! You can do it! Yes, yes, I feel better now. I feel a certain warmth in my body.
The woman suddenly raised her hands toward heaven, hurled the cane serving as her crutch, and shouted to the top of her voice.
Woman: I’m healed, I’m healed!
A Man: Oh, yeah? You might break your other leg with that excitement of yours!
Another Man: Jesus, heal me too! I’ve been ill longer than she was! Clear the way and let me pass!
Julius, the blacksmith, was giving hand blows on the air to be able to get to Jesus and ask for a miracle. He had a hunchback like a camel’s.
Man: C’mon, make a miracle, straighten my back. C’mon, what’re you waiting for? Heal me!
Jesus looked at him sadly, without saying a word.
A Man: What’s the matter? Have you lost your healing power? Why don’t you do something? Why don’t you heal me?
Woman: You gave back the eyesight of a certain Barnaby in Bethsaida! I’m blind, too, and I want to see again! Or, is he better than I am?
A Man: You can do it! You cured Seraphim in Chorazim. He was deaf and dumb!
The sick people were getting impatient with Jesus, who remained silent, with his eyes downcast. The noise was getting louder and louder. It was at this time when Rabbi Eliab appeared.
Eliab: Our paths have crossed again, Nazarene, this time not in the synagogue, but right here in broad daylight.
Jesus: Are you sick too, Rabbi?
Eliab: No, the Almighty has blessed me with good health. He has likewise given me intelligence, that I may catch the wolves hiding in sheepskin.
Jesus: Then, take a good look at me, Rabbi. Have I got wolf’s ears?
Eliab: That’s why I came. I’m tired of hearing so many stories. The entire Israel is talking about you. Some crazy men call you prophet. The more brazen ones even refer to you as the Messiah, for whom our people have been waiting for centuries. Very well. What can you say? Are you the Messiah or not? Speak up! Silence means an admission.
Jesus: The tree is known by its fruit. You will know me by my deeds.
Eliab: Let’s put things in order, Nazarene. The Scriptures say that when God sends a prophet, he gives him the power to make miracles.
A Man: And Jesus has that power, doesn’t he!
A Woman: Jesus has done a lot of miracles, Rabbi! Have you forgotten what he did to Floro, the crippled one? He was brought down from the roof and he came out running with his legs stronger than a paddle.
Eliab: Yes, I’ve heard of it, but I didn’t see it. The heart can’t believe what the eye doesn’t see.
A Man: What about the fruit vendor with a withered hand, Rabbi? Jesus stretched his hand right in front of you in the synagogue.
Eliab: It’s no use crying over spilt milk. Leave the fruit vendor and Floro alone, and stop talking of things in the past. We’re all here and I want to see a sign today. Am I asking too much, Nazarene? Look at all these sick people. You can choose from them. Heal whoever you want, but give us one clear proof. Perform a miracle before us, and we shall all believe in you. I’ll be the first to believe.
Jesus remained still, his eyes fixed on the ground. Suddenly, he bent over and plucked a few leaves from the ground. He put them in his palm and blew on them. The breeze from the lake carried the leaves on the air.
Jesus: Man’s life is like a plant. One day it grows, and with just one last breath, it dies. Our life is in God’s hands. Only God has the power to heal us.
A Woman: God and you, because you are his prophet!
Some People: We want a miracle! Make a miracle!
Jesus: Okay. There will be one miracle for all of you, just one.
A Man: Yes, yes, just one. C’mon, do it now!
Some People: Do it on me! Cure me!
Woman: I was here first! Do it on me, Jesus!
The sick milled around Jesus. Rabbi Eliab stayed a little distance away and waited, suspiciously, for the miracle that Jesus was about to make.
Jesus: Just one miracle, my friends. Jonah’s miracle. Just this one.
Man: What’s happening to Jesus, huh?
Jesus: What’s happening now happened before, when God called for Jonah and sent him to preach in the great city of Nineveh…
Voice of God: Jonah, son of Amittai, get up and go to Nineveh. The Ninevites are violent people. They trample the weak, abuse the orphans and drag the widows to court. Go and shout through the streets of Nineveh that if things don’t change, I will make them change. I’ll raise my hand and defend the cause of the poor. I shall be firm with those who abuse my people.
Jonah: Change your ways! Change your ways, everyone! This city is built on injustice! If you don’t change your ways, Nineveh will be destroyed within forty days! Reform your ways!
King: An order from the King of Nineveh: all from the first to the last, men and women, young and old, must change their ways. Each of us must cleanse our hands which have been stained with blood and violence. Let us all repent before God and practice justice. Who knows? God might also relent from the punishment that we deserve, who knows?!
A Man: Jonah was a great man, alright!
Another Man: Greater than the whale that swallowed him!
Old Woman: And you are greater than Jonah, Moreno!
Man: Then heal me! C’mon Jesus, let’s stop all this talk and just heal me, okay! What’s keeping you, anyway?
Woman: Make a miracle for us to see!
Jesus: Jonah did not perform any miracle in the city of Nineveh. It was the Ninevites who made the miracle themselves, by changing their ways and living a life of rectitude. The city, which was sick before, healed itself.
Old Woman: My son is sick too! Heal him, like you healed Jairus’ daughter!
Woman: Heal me, too! Don’t I have the right to be healed?
Jesus: Woman, one gets healed by faith, and not by right.
Woman: I have faith and I believe in God! What more do you want, for heaven’s sake!
Jesus: It is God who has faith in us, and hopes that we ourselves perform the miracle, the miracle of Jonah.
Eliab: I’ve had enough of this talk and please stop pushing around! Will you make a miracle or not? Can you do it or not?
Jesus: Why don’t you do it yourself, Rabbi? I’m sure you can. Look, do you know how this poor creature got sick? By bending his back day and night on the loom. That’s how he broke his bones! Do you know how this man twisted his neck? By carrying sacks and sacks of flour on his head to earn that measly dinarius. You make the miracle, yourself, Pharisee! It does not consist of bringing back the eyesight of the blind, but offering your pocket and sharing your food with the hungry. It is not cleansing the skin of lepers, but purging the country of the stink caused by the abuses of some people. This woman is crippled on one leg because our country is crippled on two. Let us not ask God for more miracles! They should come from us! The miracle of justice!
Eliab: Now you’re talking politics! This is the only thing you can do, Nazarene! Stir up the minds of this bunch of rascals! You’re a charlatan, that’s what you are! And an agitator! Go away and preach all this nonsense somewhere else!
Another Woman: The Rabbi is right! This guy is a glib, that’s all! Let’s get out of here, c’mon.
A Man: Go to hell, Jesus! You and your good for nothing stories!
The sick people began to leave, each one going his or her own way. Some were supported by canes, others by crutches. Still others were carried on stretchers, or in their neighbors arms. Soon no one was left in the place except our group. It was getting dark in Capernaum. The cities adorning the shore like a pearl necklace began to light their white lamps. Jesus looked sad, his gaze lost in the water’s reflection.
Jesus: Poor Chorazim! After all those preaching in the square and in the streets… you still haven’t changed… You’re still an adulterous city, worse than Nineveh and Sodom. I pity you, Bethsaida, as you lie in your warm bed in the company of big businessmen, while your people agonize in hunger and suffer in the open cold. You continue to coddle usurers and the gods of violence. You never hear the cries of the dying innocent. And you, Capernaum, you want to scale the heavens to rob the Lord of his miracles, but you never make an effort to change your ways on earth. You refuse to perform the only miracle that God asks of you: that of doing justice.
People’s religiosity that is poorly oriented and nurtured under a situation of misery easily converts into “fantastic tales” of miracles. Religion and faith become identified with something marvelous, amazing, and exceptional. God is reduced to a powerful doctor or to a circus magician. Faith becomes adulterated, its acts simplified into one sole purpose: To be able to believe in a miracle. Yet, what is even worse is that when people succumb into this frenzy, they miss what is most important: The reality of each day that is full of injustice and “sicknesses,” clamoring for changes that should originate from us.
In an effort to explain who Jesus is, how he did good by performing miracles, healing the people possessed by the devil because God was with him (Acts 10:38), a number of miracle stories have been transmitted to us by the evangelists, and the gospel texts are spattered with marvelous accounts. All these narrations should not be read as such. A strict, literary criticism of the same will show how some of these miracle accounts are duplicated (compare Mk 10:46-52 with Mt 20:29-34); others are magnified, and still others are loosely elaborated, etc. All this simply tells us that although there is a certain historical nucleus in the stories about Jesus’ healings, we cannot convert the gospel into something like a catalog of miracles performed by a powerful superman. This idea is common in many people with poor theological formation. In order to overcome this obstacle which may be a setback in our quest for Jesus and his good news, we might have to start with a differentiation of the terms “miracle” and “sign.” The gospel of John, which brings down to seven the number of miracles performed by Jesus, gives us a reason for this. In referring to these acts, he always uses the Greek word “semeion” (= sign). A sign has no value in itself. It points at a certain direction, it indicates a road, a way. It is not the goal, but the means to attain it. In this sense, the “miracles” of Jesus would not be isolated and marvelous acts instigated by his compassion for suffering individuals. If that were so, they would not mean anything at all, and would simply vanish. On the other hand, if we take them as signs that will lead us to an understanding of Jesus’ mission, we expand considerably the theology of the miracle, that Jesus of Nazareth has healed a paralytic in the first century of our era: what then, could it mean for us nowadays? But the fact that Jesus, the messenger of God’s plan of justice for history, has raised a man from his downtrodden position is a sign that his good news is capable of lifting us from our passivity. A broader and more profound reading of the miracles is therefore necessary if we want to be faithful to the full content of the gospels. This is so because, for every person healed by Jesus, the evangelists are actually giving us a picture of the “prototypes “ of people, in which case the picture could be of us perhaps.
Just as there is a difference between a miracle and a sign, we might as well establish the difference between faith and religion. Religion “reunites” humans with God, making the former dependent on the latter. This may be good, but it may also be risky. Sometimes religious consciousness makes us expect from God what we may achieve through our own efforts or through everyone’s unity or organization. It might make us fear God’s punishments for our evil deeds and shortcomings. Likewise, it might make us feel that God’s benevolence may be bought by good deeds: Prayers, sacrifices, vows… These feelings have been entrenched in the hearts of men ever since the creation of the world. Nevertheless, if we want to grow as free individuals, then we must be able to overcome them. In fact, God wants us to overcome them. The proof of this desire is Jesus, who with his word and attitude, lifts up people, and takes away from them the fear of the Lord, making them responsible for their own lives and for history, making them grow in freedom. In the face of such an attitude toward freedom, historical commitment, equality, triumph over fear, etc. is anchored our authentic attitude toward faith, not on religious feelings which may revert people to a childish status if they give in to them unquestioningly.
People or certain groups hiding in the shadow of these fantastic tales of miracles may be concealing an enormous degree of materialism, thus reducing the act of God to a palpable and provable proof of his supposed power over humans. We must realize that healing a number of diseases may be done – in fact this has been proven in history – by way of a strong psychological impact, by suggestion, and through “faith” in a manner of psychic power, letting loose hidden potentials in our being. Naturally, God is present at this moment, just as God is there when nothing of this sort happens. That is why it is highly perilous to attribute to God’s direct intervention what can be explained as the body’s means to overcome, during specific moments of exaltation. God’s involvement in our life, in history, is revealed in other “miracles.” We just need to open our eyes to realize this. Jonah’s miracle did not consist of his having been swallowed by a whale, and to be spewed out later on, safe and sound. The miracle was that Nineveh, a city wallowing in corruption and injustice, was transformed and the people realized the wrong they had committed, so they changed their ways. We can undertake at this moment, the miracle that God wants of us. The Spirit of God will sustain us in our struggle, keep our commitment alive and grant us hope that will transcend even death.
(Mt 11:20-24; 12:38-42; Mk 8:11-13; Lk 10:13-15; 11:29-32)