By REV. LUNA L. DINGAYAN
“You ask me for a miracle? No! The only miracle you will be given is the miracle of Jonah”- Matthew 16:4
Poverty and Miracles
Our people today are desperately looking for miracles to happen in our country. And perhaps, this would explain why a lot of people are so attracted to self-proclaimed messiahs promising instant riches, instant success, or instant cure from illness, or even instant salvation from all forms of human enslavement. From time to time, we hear news about icons dancing or crying with blood, attracting thousands of people. And we may ask ourselves, why do people believe these things to be true? Why do people look for miracles of this kind?
It is interesting to note that miracles of this sort do happen in crisis situations. When people are visited by natural as well as human-made calamities, when they are desperately hopeless, when they live in constant fear that they might be the next victim of violence in the street or in their homes, when they have no one to turn to, because even those who are supposed to protect them are the ones victimizing them: then the only option left for them is to appeal to the supernatural, believing that by the power of the supernatural they could be released from all their sufferings or they could temporarily escape at least from the harsh realities of this world.
The late Cardinal Sin may be right when he said onetime that when people are hungry and have nothing to eat, they see visions, they see apparitions!
Ignorance and Miracles
Moreover, miracles of this kind also thrive in situations when people are grossly ignorant of their faith. Some of the things happening today already happened many times before. For instance, when the Protestant Reformation Movement spread throughout Western Europe in the 16th Century, it was followed by a widespread tearing down of icons. And according to B.K. Kuiper in his book The Church in History, there was one huge icon in Middletown, England, which had been the center of countless pilgrimages, because it was believed that this icon could turn its head, roll its eyes, move its lips, foam at the mouth, and shed tears. But when this icon was removed and destroyed, a mechanism was discovered inside which the priests manipulated!
People in those days were hopelessly ignorant of their faith, because the church seemed to have become thoroughly ritualistic and sacramental. The priests would not even deliver sermons anymore; they just read the missal in Latin, a language which common people could not even understand. Hence, the people became superstitious and vulnerable to manipulation by the powers-that-be.
We should bear in mind that one of the key strengths of the Protestant Movement in those days was its Christian education program. The Protestant reformers translated the Bible in the language of the people. They developed catechism and seriously taught the people about the Christian faith. This is important to emphasize, because September is supposed to be Christian education month. And there seems to be a need for Christian churches today to strengthen their Christian education programs.
Now, we may ask, does our peoples’ intense craving in our time for something miraculous an indicator that we have failed somehow in teaching them about the true essence and meaning of the Christian faith? Does this mean that we have failed in instilling in their hearts and minds that the Christian faith is not meant to enslave us, but to liberate us from all forms of superstition and false hopes? Today, we have developed in our country a culture of poverty and ignorance that gave birth somehow to miracles like those of the dancing and crying icons.
Jesus and Miracles
The people during Jesus’ time were also looking for miracles. Many were following him, because they wanted to see by themselves “the signs and wonders” or miracles that Jesus performed. It was the practice of the Jews that they would ask for signs and wonders from those who claimed to be God’s messengers.
Thus, the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to Jesus one time asked him to perform a miracle for them to show that God really approved of him (Matt.16:1-4). Actually, they wanted to trap Jesus. It is the same kind of trap or temptation that people today are also asking evangelists or churches to do. They are also in effect saying that the evangelists or churches should show something extraordinary if they are really God’s messengers of hope.
Unlike Jesus, evangelists or churches today, sad to say, yielded to this trap or temptation. And so, we have had these phenomena of icons dancing or crying or instant healing that heightens peoples’ fanatical devotions and superstitious religiosity. But for how long will people remain faithful simply because of these extraordinary sensations? Let us be reminded always that a faith anchored on miraculous sensations will need more of it each day to be sustained. But the moment there is no more miraculous sensations such faith will just crumble like a house of cards. Besides, faith in Christ because of miraculous sensations is not actually faith but rather doubt looking for proof.
And so, Jesus said, “How evil and godless are the people of this day! You ask me for a miracle? No! The only miracle you will be given is the miracle of Jonah” (v.4).
Miracle of Jonah
Genuine miracles are the “signs and wonders” of God’s living presence. Jesus said that the only sign of God’s presence given to the people is the miracle of Jonah. As we read in the Old Testament, the story of Jonah was a story of a servant of God who hesitatingly went to preach in the City of Nineveh, the old capital of Assyria, a city filled with evil and injustice. This was the capital city of the Assyrian Empire that destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel. No wonder Jonah would like this City to be destroyed rather than saved.
At first, Jonah would like to escape from the responsibility. He would like God to destroy, rather than to save the city. But by God’s guidance and empowering presence, Jonah could not do otherwise than to obey. He preached, calling for people to repentance. The whole population was converted, from the king down to the lowest citizen, making them change their way of life. They repented of their sins and prayed earnestly to God and gave up their wicked behaviors and their evil ways (Jonah 3:8).
This is the miracle of Jonah. It is a miracle of radical change – from being unjust to being compassionate; from being evil and corrupt to being good and responsible people, from being selfish and greedy to being selfless and gracious.
Miracles for Today
Like in the time of Jesus, this, I believe, is the kind of miracles that we need today. It is not the miracles of icons dancing or crying or the miracles of false promises of instant riches or success by self-proclaimed messiahs. Rather, what we need today are the miracles of massive and radical changes in the lives of our people, especially those who are clothed with authority that they may repent of their sins and turn away from their wicked ways. What we need today are miracles of genuine transformation of church and society.
This was God’s promise to King Solomon, and I believe this is also the same promise for us today, that “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, says the Lord, “pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). Let this be done according to God’s Word. Amen. # nordis.net