As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
The Red Sox are in the World Series! Back in 2004, in the American League Championship, the Red Sox became the first team in MLB history to come back from a 0–3 deficit to win a seven-game series, and their victory was deemed a “miracle.” They went on to win the World Series for the first time in 86 years, overcoming the Curse of the Bambino. I vividly remember sitting on top of my coffee table only a couple of feet from the TV (maybe I thought if I was closer to the screen they could hear me cheering) and weeping tears of joy. Talk about a miracle! It sure felt like one at the time. May they do it again!
How often we use the phrase, “It’s a miracle!” But what is a miracle?
Its meaning is derived from the Latin words for “object of wonder,” “to wonder at,” and “to smile, to be astonished.” It’s defined as “an event that appears inexplicable by the laws of nature and so is held to be supernatural in origin” and “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.”
In today’s passage, we read about the second of the many miracles performed by Jesus in Mark’s Gospel – the healing of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever. This was no small matter in the ancient world. A fever was not only debilitating for a little while, but was often a symptom of a condition that could lead to death. Simon’s mother was unable to function, yet Jesus simply “raises her up.” In Mark’s direct and uncomplicated style, he says, “Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.” It was a miracle.
When we read of Jesus’ astonishing healings – or when we hear of other miraculous occurrences – often our first response is to ask “How did he do that?” Or “How in the world did that happen?” When we can’t explain something, when it’s outside our realm of believability, we say “it must be a miracle!”
And it is we who call them miracles. The fact is that none of the gospels ever calls any of Jesus’ healings a “miracle.” “Miracle” is a slightly more modern word – for “an event that appears inexplicable by the laws of nature.”
Whenever Jesus heals, there doesn’t seem to be any particular formula that he follows. There’s no definitive path to healing, no set of requirements for his actions to be effective. Jesus’ healing acts are spontaneous. His acts are simply gracious expressions of the love of God. Jesus brings wholeness to broken lives and raises the dead. We call them “miracles” only because we find them inexplicable by our methods of explanation.
Like us, it’s always the crowd that’s astonished by Jesus’ miraculous moments. Jesus is never astonished. To him, these wondrous works are the most natural thing in the world. What we consider miraculous – odd, out of this world, a disruption in the order of things – is what the Gospel says is normal. What Jesus does – apparently quite naturally – gives us a glimpse of the way the world is meant to be.
Jesus challenges our notions of “natural” and “supernatural.” Supernatural is that weird, unscientific, unverifiable, inexplicable realm to which we relegate everything we don’t know how to think about.
But what if what we call “natural” is really the opposite of what God intends? What if what we call “supernatural” is the world the way it’s really meant to be? What if miracles, which to our eyes seem to be supernatural, are to the eyes of God the most natural thing in the world?
There are words in the Gospels that were later translated as “miracle” – words like works, wonders, powers, and signs. Maybe that’s the best way to think of all Jesus’ wondrous work – as a sign. The healing of Simon’s sick mother-in-law is a sign that points to something even more important than just her recovery. Jesus’ wondrous works are signs pointing to the truth of who Jesus really is and the direction the world is supposed to be headed in. These signs, these miracles, are glimpses of who God is and what God wants.
And these signs are everywhere! Miracles are really a natural part of creation. Miracles are the result of God’s loving, constant involvement with the world, however subtle and undetected. They’re sacred moments, these moments of miracle – often everyday moments. Moments that, if we’re not really paying attention, reveal only a gardener, working by a tomb; or a stranger walking down the road to join us; or a meal like any other meal. But if we look with our hearts and souls, what we see is Jesus himself.
When Jesus healed someone, when he performed a work of wonder, it was a sign that God’s kingdom had come close, that God’s intentions for the world had sprung out and were there for all the world to see. And those works of wonder – God’s miracles – happen all the time! You are attesting to them in all the blocks of wood we’re collecting on this table.
The author C.S. Lewis wrote that “Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.”
The theologian Frederick Buechner has described his own sense of feeling “ripe” for miracles in his life – miracles which he calls “the occasional, obscure glimmering through of grace” and “the muffled presence of the holy.” He writes: “…what we need to know…is not just that God exists, not just that beyond the steely brightness of the stars there is a cosmic intelligence of some kind that keeps the whole show going…[We need to know] that there is a God right here in the thick of our day-by-day lives who may not be writing messages about himself in the stars but who in one way or another is trying to get messages through our blindness as we move around down here knee-deep in the fragrant muck and misery and marvel of the world. [It’s] not objective proof of God’s existence that we want but…the experience of God’s presence. That is the miracle that we are really after. And that is also, I think, the miracle that we really get.”
That day at Simon’s house, when his mother-in-law was in her own way brought back to life, it was as if Jesus showed us what’s really going on in God’s creation – the intrusions and outbreaks of the kingdom of God in our midst. Through miracles, God disrupts and astonishes us. Every time Jesus provided healing, or performed miraculous wonders, it was as if he was saying, “This is the way the world is supposed to be. This is God’s intention for creation. This is normal.” Amen.