This Sunday’s first reading from Isaiah gives us a surprising assessment of the coming Savior’s power.
“He shall bring forth justice to the nations,
not crying out, not shouting,
not making his voice heard in the street.
A bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smoldering wick he shall not quench.”
The power of the Savior who came was evident in his words. Yet when we think of the power of Christ we always remember his showy miracles: turning water into wine, the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, the walking on water. Those weren’t miracles to Jesus. They were a means to plugging into the power of the Word of God. When Jesus saw that power at work, it astounded even him.
Jesus’ subtlety is evident in today’s gospel reading. John the Baptist is astonished by the Savior coming to him for baptism, thinking it should be the reverse—him coming to Jesus.
“Allow it now,” Jesus said, “for thus it is fitting for us
to fulfill all righteousness.”
And then it’s Jesus’ turn to be astonished, as the Father sends down a miracle for his Son to witness:
“The heavens were opened for him,
and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove
and coming upon him.
And a voice came from the heavens, saying,
‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’
The power of his Father’s words never ceased to amaze Jesus. Chapter 8 in the Gospel of Matthew continues that theme. It has the account of the centurion who had heard of what Jesus was preaching and then asks Jesus to heal his servant. When Jesus offers to go home with him, the miracle happens:
“Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof,” the centurion tells Jesus. “Only say the word and my servant will be healed.”
When Jesus hears this, he’s amazed and says to those following him, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.”
Then there was the woman suffering from hemorrhages who sneaked up behind him in a crowd, hoping only to touch his cloak in order to be healed. And as she did this, only then did Jesus become aware of it. Again, he is astonished by the faith the word of God has planted in the people who’ve heard it.
“Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”
The showy miracles were the two-by-four across the head that Jesus needed to get the attention of the thick-skulled populace. Everyone who witnessed them was impressed. Once they were properly tenderized, the truth Jesus was telling them could sink in. And after that happened, it was Jesus’ turn to be astounded by the power the Holy Spirit wielded with words.